America's Historic Cokehead President

Does it bother you that the most powerful man on the planet was a longtime drug user?  Does it bother you that he has attempted to use his drug abuse to gain credibility with young Americans?  Does it bother you that his acknowledgment of having been a serious drug user has been given a pass in the news media?

If any of these facts do bother you, then you obviously fail to recognize their significance.  Don't you see?  Barack Obama is the first U.S. president to admit to cocaine abuse, to describe it in a manner designed to impress the young, and to get away with it.  It's historic.

Consider his most famous "admission."  In Dreams from My Father, the first of his two autobiographies (a historic number of pre-presidential autobiographies), he describes his college drug use this way:

I had learned not to care. ... Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it.  Not smack, though[.] ... Junkie.  Pothead.  That's where I'd be headed: the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man.  Except the highs hadn't been about that, me trying to prove what a down brother I was.  Not by then anyway.  I got just the opposite effect, something that could push questions of who I was out of my mind, something that could flatten out the landscape of my heart, blur the edges of my memory.

Where to begin?  Why does a grown man (34 years old, and about to embark on a state senatorial campaign), looking back on his past from a presumably sober, adult perspective, feel the need to use street lingo like "pot," "blow," and "smack"?  Perhaps it is true that his drug use -- "by then anyway" -- was not aimed at proving "what a down brother" he was, but this adult reversion to the hip language of the street punk certainly is aimed at exactly that. 

George W. Bush, grilled about his alleged drug use, demurred that he had been wayward in his youth, but that God had saved him from all that.  In other words, he at least tried to maintain his adult dignity by drawing an explicit maturity barrier between the numbskull he had been and the gentleman he had since become.  Even Bill Clinton, who never did become an adult, nevertheless saw the need to fake it, and thus produced the Clintonesque charmer about not having inhaled.

By contrast, in 2006, when Jay Leno asked Obama a scripted question about whether he had inhaled, the U.S. Senator smilingly replied, "That was the point."

A clever smack (er, I mean "shot") at Clinton, to be sure, and one which Obama used repeatedly before and during his primary campaign against Clinton's wife...but isn't there something unsavory about a presidential candidate elevating himself above a past president by quipping, in effect, "Clinton was a square; I know how to smoke dope"?

And consider the historic pomposity of his self-justification in that Dreams passage:

I got just the opposite effect, something that could push questions of who I was out of my mind, something that could flatten out the landscape of my heart, blur the edges of my memory.

What a load of claptrap.  Obama attempts to romanticize, even to mythologize, his drug abuse by musing that, although it may initially have been about proving "what a down brother" he was, it later became part of his struggle for identity -- about pushing "questions of who he was" out of his mind, about flattening his bumpy heart, about blurring "the edges of his memory." 

Stripped of the self-glorifying language, what has he really said?  In boring translation: I started using drugs because I wanted to fit in, but I continued to use them because I got hooked on the sensation of losing contact with reality.  How is this different from the experience of any other "junkie" or "pothead"?

His romanticized language, however, does qualify him as the first president to publish drug poetry, which is certainly historic.  Unless, of course, Jack Cashill is right, and Dreams was actually written by a guy in Obama's neighborhood  named Bill Ayers, in which case Obama would be historic as the first president ever to have his autobiography ghostwritten by someone who, according to an FBI informant, openly discussed the necessity of killing the ten percent of the U.S. population who could not be re-educated after the revolution.

While his "pot" and "booze" intake was apparently substantial -- perhaps historically so, at least by presidential standards -- Obama/Ayers (identity is such a free-flowing thing when you're high) is careful to qualify his cocaine use as "maybe a little blow when you could afford it."  Notice the highly literary trick of using the impersonal "you" in that sentence, rather than "I."  After all, he is explicitly describing his own substance abuse here, and he uses the first-person pronoun throughout the passage.  Suddenly, however, in the "blow" reference, he becomes "you," and qualifies his activity with the distancing "maybe," thereby rendering his cocaine use generic, abstract, almost a collective experience rather than a personal one.  It is as though he wishes to put his use of hard drugs on the table, but simultaneously to "spread the crime around," if you will, by categorizing it as just one of those things "you" do as a student. 

I don't know about you, but I was a student within roughly the same timeframe as Obama, and I never used cocaine, even "when I could afford it."  I never smoked marijuana, either.  This is not holier-than-thou preaching.  In high school, I had a few friends who smoked marijuana and hashish "when they could afford it" -- i.e., very regularly.  I didn't disown them for it, but I also never chose to join them in it.  One doesn't have to, you know.

But I can say this with certainty: if one of my drug-using high school friends were running for public office today, I wouldn't be able to vote for him.  In fact, I would be surprised that he would have the gall to do it, given his past indulgence in illegal and disreputable activities.  I would be unable to avoid thinking of him as I so often saw him in the past, and as voters should picture Obama now: glazed over, using Visine eye drops to remove the redness before class, smiling stupidly at nothing in particular, snickering uncontrollably with other stoned friends in the classroom, talking like an idiot about the things stoners talk about -- and cruising through school neighborhoods in search of a local pusher with whom to engage, conscience-free, in his habitual criminal activity.

And the people I knew were "merely" using so-called soft drugs; they did not share Obama's cocaine habit.  The lifelong protection from media scrutiny that Obama has earned with that clever abstract phrase from 1995 -- "maybe a little blow when you could afford it" -- is historic as the most practically efficacious admission of felonious behavior in presidential history. 

Notice that he doesn't say he did only a little cocaine.  He says he did "a little" cocaine when he had the money to buy it.  How often was that?  And couldn't the most hardened addict say the same?  Obama was not a kid who, like so many succumbing to peer pressure, "tried" drugs.  He was a full-blown (oops, I mean "habitual") drug-user.

Historians of the future will be hard-pressed to explain how the most successful nation on Earth, with the most destructive weapons at its command, and with a political system that invests everything in the prudence and self-restraint of its leaders, could have elected as its president a man who is impervious to shame in talking about his long-term drug use, and who appears on comedy shows to make jokes about having been a better pot-smoker than another president.

While they're at it, those scholars might take a crack at explaining how such a nation could have elected a president who has been described by a Ph.D. who knew him in his historic university days as a committed Marxist-Leninist; a president who explained his historic choice to work as a community organizer in Chicago as a search for "what the possibilities were for progressive politics in the black community"; a president whose academic records have remained historically sealed; a president who, as a state senator, publicly criticized the U.S. Constitution as ignoring "issues of redistribution of wealth, and ... economic justice," bemoaned the Warren Court's lack of radicalism, and criticized the civil rights movement for neglecting "the activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which to bring about redistributive change"; and a president who has historically strolled blithely through all of these revelations without serious media questioning in the country that entrenched freedom of the press in the first entry of its Bill of Rights.

However they explain these things, there is no doubt that those future historians will regard their collective effect as historic -- whether as the final slap in the face that revived a great nation, or as a perfect symbol of the irreparable moral deterioration of a once-noble civilization, it's still too early to tell.

Notwithstanding Obama's pro forma protestations about not being "proud" of his drug use, he is clearly unable to resist using this cool past to attract cool voters, and to differentiate himself from his square predecessors.  This is not surprising.  He got caught up in drugs in the first place out of a desire to be cool, to prove he was "a down brother." 

Perhaps today, without the objective distance of history, only the "uncool" can see what the pop-cultural euphemism "cool" -- as the term has been used since the 1960s -- really means.  To be cool, whatever its self-deluded admirers might like to imagine, means to be a follower, to lack independent thought, to be afraid of standing apart from even the dumbest trends among one's peers -- to be willing, if necessary, to annihilate one's own reason and conscience in order to "fit in" and be liked.  Thus, if your friends are cokeheads, cool means being a cokehead.  If your friends are leftist radicals, cool means being a leftist radical.  Obama is nothing if not cool.

When it comes to choosing the leaders of the free world, however, I'll take the squares every time.

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