Does what Obama smoked really matter?

By Daily Illini Editorial Board

Last Saturday at a campaign event in New Hampshire, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama answered a question about his use of drugs. The specific question was modeled off a famous moment in Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign in which the would-be president answered that he did try marijuana but did not inhale. Obama had this to say: “I never understood that line. The point was to inhale. That was the point.”

That isn’t a misprint. This honest answer is an all too rare occurrence in a presidential campaign that has indeed been going on for a year already. In fact, Obama has been forthright about his cocaine, marijuana and alcohol use as a teenager in his book “Dreams from My Father.”

Obama even admitted earlier this month that after he entered college, he realized how much time he had wasted because of his indiscretions. But his candor is being criticized by another presidential hopeful.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney later responded by stating, “It’s just not a good idea for people running for President of the United States who potentially could be the role model for a lot of people to talk about their personal failings while they were kids because it opens the doorway to other kids thinking, ‘well I can do that too and become President of the United States.'”

According to the 2005 National Study on Drug Use and Health, more than 97 million Americans have tried marijuana at least once in their lifetimes. With millions more using alcohol and at least one alleged former cocaine user currently inhabiting the Oval Office, candidates should not be stigmatized for admitting to past drug use. They certainly shouldn’t be penalized for admitting their mistakes and discouraging others from repeating them.

It’s not clear what is sillier: pretending candidates haven’t used drugs when they were young or pretending that it matters more than their current stances on Iraq, energy, the economy and health care.

When candidates admit their real mistakes, they do more to benefit the voters and the nation than those who advocate the false virtue of perfection.

If Mitt Romney is very concerned with Obama serving as a role model for Americans, perhaps he should consider those who will heed the example of a self-admitted goof-off with a drug problem who used hard work and determination to overcome his obstacles and become the junior senator from Illinois.

No matter what standards voters will use, certainly the kind of honesty Obama has shown should be expected from those who want to lead a country that like its citizens, is anything but perfect.