I think the drug war is crazy and that marijuana should be legalized. But as a student of U.S. politics, I’m flabbergasted by the implications of the fact that it didn’t come out until now that Barack Obama was such a gung-ho young pothead that he thanked his drug dealer in his high school yearbook. Obama barely beat Hillary Clinton. If he had to spend months in 2007-08 dealing with stories that his high school buddies all depicted him as a smarter, more exotic version of Cheech and Chong, I don’t think he would have won.
But there are many interesting twists and turns to contemplate here. It’s a matter of record that Bill Clinton thought the fawning media coverage (go to the 4:10 mark) of Obama gave him the Democratic nomination and the presidency in 2007-08. So it’s easy to see this from the perspective of “oh, the media going soft on Obama yet again.”
But it’s also a matter of fact that more dirt on candidates is turned up by opposition research done by rival candidates than the media itself. Anyone who doubts that the story about Mitt Romney being a high school bully didn’t have the Obama camp’s fingerprints all over it needs to go back and see all the references to the politics of people recounting the story to the Washington Post.
So this points to a delicious and strange possibility. that the Clintons knew about Obama’s pot devotion thanks to their vaunted opposition research, but kept it under wraps to keep the story from being framed as planted by the Clintons to destroy America’s first potential black president.
Which brings us to “Primary Colors,” Anonymous/Joe Klein’s savvy, funny 1996 novel that was a thinly fictionalized account of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign. In the book, small-southern state Gov. Jack Stanton and lawyer wife Susan are stand-ins for Bill and Hillary. The governor’s campaign is on its way to winning the Democratic nomination when a late-entry candidate, kind of a New Age-y version of Ross Perot named Fred Picker, jumps in the race and strikes a chord with an electorate that is still unsold on Stanton. (Some reviews said Picker was Perot mixed with Jerry Brown.)
The Stantons’ vaunted opposition research team quickly turns up career-ending dirt on Picker, setting the stage for another evocation of “Primary Colors’” main theme: the contrast between the noble, uplifting rhetoric of candidates and the seamy way they operate so as to secure power. Will the Stantons use the dirt to destroy their opponent or not? This is the key question of the final third of the novel.
The Stantons do so, but indirectly, meeting with Picker and laying out what they’ve found out about his early-career cocaine habit, bisexual adventures and corruption. He drops out of the race. The final page of the novel involves the main narrator (Stanton aide Henry Burton, based on George Stephanapolous) who has turned in his resignation because of this political blackmail — but who is still drawn to the Stantons because of their potential to change politics in ways he would like.
Is it possible in the real world, the real world Stantons had to make a decision of this magnitude in 2007? You betcha.
But I think that if they did know and leaked it out, there was a very real chance it would come back to haunt them. And the Clintons thought they were going to beat Obama without pointing out what was right there in his high school yearbook for all to see.
Maybe that’s one reason we saw so many clips like this in 2008. Bill Clinton couldn’t believe the media weren’t digging up on Obama what was waiting for them on Oahu.