Today on Fox News, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu said President Obama "has no idea how the American system functions," adding, "We shouldn't be surprised about that, because he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something." Sununu, who served as George H.W. Bush's chief of staff, was responding to Obama's recent comment that "if you've got a business, you didn't build that"—which was indeed pretty dumb, or at least poorly phrased, even in the context of an argument about government's role in creating the infrastructure on which entrepreneurs rely. But Sununu's Joe Fridayish response is, if anything, even dumber. Many brilliant achievers in business and other fields, after all, spent part of their high school or college years "smoking something"—an experience so common in Obama's generation (and mine) that never smoking pot marks one as deviant. Judging from his persistent refusal to deny reports that he smoked marijuana, Obama's Republican predecessor—the son of Sununu's former boss—was once a cannabis consumer as well. Yet noted pain pill popper Rush Limbaugh thinks invoking Obama's marijuana use is a winning strategy. Here is the attack Limbaugh recommends that Mitt Romney use against Obama:
Look, pal, when I was out creating jobs, investing in businesses, and growing this economy, you were at Columbia smoking weed and snorting coke. You write about it in your book. You talk about how you got into Columbia and the Harvard Law Review, and you didn't have to do anything. That's what was great about it to you! You loved getting into Columbia 'cause all you had to do was go to class, get your grades, and smoke a little weed! Well, I was out building the country when you were doing that.
Romney, a Mormon, may indeed have eschewed recreational substances his entire life, but many Republican politicians, including several who ran for the presidential nomination or considered doing so this time around, have, like Obama, admitted smoking pot. Should the ideas of Newt Gingrich, Gary Johnson, Mitch Daniels, and Sarah Palin be dismissed on that basis? How long will Republicans continue to smirkingly insinuate that something most American adults born after World War II have done makes them unsuited for public office? At least as long as old hacks like Sununu are still breathing, I guess.
If Obama's drug use is relevant, it's in the context of imposing life-disrupting sanctions on people who do as he did but are not lucky enough to get away with it. His experience should have led him to oppose the unjust, irrational, and absurdly wasteful use of the criminal justice system to arrest and punish people for smoking something that offends John Sununu. Instead it seems to have made him especially wary of de-escalating the war on drugs, despite promises to do so, lest he supply further ammunition to puerile prohibitionists like Sununu and Limbaugh.