Just a day after Hillary Clinton's communication director declared that the campaign would not raise the issue of Barack Obama's acknowledged cocaine use, her New Hampshire co-chair, Billy Shaheen, warned that Republicans will capitalize on Obama's drug history if he wins the Democratic nomination.
"The Republicans are not going to give up without a fight," Shaheen told the Washington Post, "and one of the things they're certainly going to jump on is his drug use."
In the Washington Post interview published Dec. 12, Shaheen said Obama's own willingness to discuss his past drug use would "open the door" for the GOP: "It'll be, 'When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?'....There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It's hard to overcome."
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe denounced Shaheen's comments: "Hillary Clinton said attacking other Democrats is the 'fun part' of this campaign, and now she's moved from Barack Obama's kindergarten years to his teenage years in an increasingly desperate effort to slow her slide in the polls. Senator Clinton's campaign is recycling old news that Barack Obama has been candid about in a book he wrote years ago, and he's talked about the lessons he's learned from these mistakes with young people all across the country."
An earlier Huffington Post article from Dec. 11 described secretive efforts by the Clinton campaign to promote the Obama-cocaine issue. In the HuffPost article, Howard Wolfson, Clinton's communications director, contended that the campaign has not tried to make use of Obama's past cocaine use and that it would not attempt to do so in the future. "Candidates personal lives should not be a part of this campaign," Wolfson said.
Responding to Shaheen's comments, Wolfson said today, "These comments were not authorized or condoned by the campaign in any way."
Allies of the Clinton campaign had sent emails to reporters and Democratic activists with a link to an Iowa Independent story by Douglas Burns headlined "The Politics Of Obama's Past Cocaine Use."
Burns' article on Obama posed a question that Clinton has been unwilling to raise herself and that has received little attention during the Democratic primary battles: If Barack Obama becomes the nominee, will the GOP be able to turn his acknowledged cocaine use into a debilitating issue?
Burns cited two June polls, one by Scripps Howard, the other by the New York Times. Both found that strong majorities of respondents believe that voters would not be willing to support a presidential candidate who admitted cocaine use. "What will be fascinating to watch is whether Americans' views on cocaine will play out in the election booths as a defining factor or anything close to that. If it does, that could spell trouble for Obama," Burns wrote.
"Junkie. Pothead. That's where I'd been headed: the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man," Obama wrote in his book Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. "The highs hadn't been about that, me trying to prove what a down brother I was. Not by then, anyway. I got high for 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."
Elsewhere in the book Obama writes, "We were always playing on the white man's court . . . by the white man's rules . . . . If the principal, or the coach, or a teacher . . . wanted to spit in your face, he could, because he had the power and you didn't. . . . The only thing you could choose was withdrawal into a smaller and smaller coil of rage. And the final irony: should you refuse this defeat and lash out at your captors . . . they would have a name for that too. Paranoid. Militant. . . . Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it."
Sources pointed out that in 1992, Bill Clinton complained when President George H. W. Bush tried to capitalize on Clinton's marijuana use. The Los Angeles Times reported in Oct. 1992:
Bush broached the marijuana issue by questioning whether Clinton could be believed when he makes campaign promises. "This guy couldn't remember in detail that he didn't inhale 20 years ago, and he can't remember what came out of his mouth 20 minutes ago," the President said as he stumped for votes in Florida, a state critical to his reelection hopes. It was the first time Bush had so directly brought up a problem that dogged the Arkansas governor in the spring -- his acknowledgment that he had tried marijuana while studying at Oxford University in Britain, but that he had not inhaled. [...] Clinton, responding to the day's attacks on him, told a reporter that he felt "sorry" for Bush. "I think that that sort of demeaning talk doesn't do him any good and only shows the American people how desperate he is to hold onto his job," Clinton said as he attended a dinner in Washington, D.C.
Allegations of drug use have become increasingly common in recent elections, including charges, denied by George W. Bush, that he was arrested for cocaine possession in 1972.