Barack Obama is a reformed doper, so of course he's against legalizing marijuana.
Another disappointment for the legions of politically progressive fans who'd taken to Obamania as though it was its own opiate. Who is this guy, anyway? He's said he smoked dope and snorted coke in his youth. So where's the empathy, man?
But forget about its effect on his policies. His druggie past is not helping him shape the overarching grit of his public character nearly as much as it could be. Weed and cocaine? Who's going to be impressed with that, when his hugely successful contemporaries like Oprah Winfrey have the truly dark and evil specter of crack in their background?
Not the previously supportive New York Times, whose columnists are tearing Obama apart for being an elitist wuss. "Even many Democrats," wrote Frank Rich last Sunday, "have become lukewarm in their conviction that their president 'understands the problems of people like you.'"
His poll numbers on the "understanding" issue "have imploded," Rich notes, dropping from 72 percent who thought he did when he started the job down to 50 percent now. People who think he doesn't understand have doubled from 24 to 48 percent.
The problem is not just that he's an ideological jellyfish, too conservative for the left and too liberal for the right. It's that, as diverse and interesting as his background is, he was never down enough to make himself truly credible.
He needed some rock in that pipe of his youth. If he'd had a crack addiction then instead of an effete taste for powdered cocaine and pot, people might be a little more respectful of him now. It would have been an even tougher journey to the top. The big dog bite needs teeth sharpened by real adversity.
If our culture and society has faith in nothing else, we believe deeply in the redemptive power of resurrection. When you've seen us from the bottom, from underneath, you may not be like us but you can certainly understand us. Look at our heroes, like Oprah, and our cable stars whose lives we sometimes mimic and always watch hypnotically, collapsing and expanding like a lawn chair. We believe in someone who's been to the edge because they've also cleansed themselves in the purifying mist of confession.
But it has to be a confession about something considered really bad, not a bored Ivy Leaguer's afterthought.
During a meeting of local Democratic high-rollers I snuck into in 2004, career diplomat and Secretary-of-State hopeful Richard Holbrooke was strategizing for Presidential candidate John Kerry.
The question came up about Kerry's haute, silk-stocking image: "Should he have gone to Disneyland for vacation instead of skiing at Sun Valley?"
If you had to ask, it was already too late. Of course Kerry got monster-trucked by GW Bush and voters who thought the Sun Valley patrician lacked the capacity for understanding real people.
Today Obama has a Kerry problem. Or a Dukakis tank problem. Maybe it's a Democrat problem. What happened to the of-the-people party?
Frank Rich, who remains a fan, nonetheless describes "Obama's meandering path," his "loophole-ridden compromise[s]," his "indifferent White House," the view that he's an "out-of-touch elitist," and he says the Iraq speech was "as persuasive as a hostage video." Yes. Hostage to his ambivalence and ambition. He looks like a Yuppie not a Survivor.
"How did the first president of color," asks Maureen Dowd, "become so colorless?"
Crack could have helped put some color back into the Obama narrative. It is a drug that disproportionately haunts African American communities. Think coke and its Paris Hilton or some no-brainers on The Hills. Crack is the gutter drug. Just read the nearly bottomless well of top-selling autobiographies about surviving and triumphing over crack addiction, including, "Night of the Gun," from the Times' own tough-minded media critic, David Carr.
That's why Oprah body-slammed faux-memoirist David Frey for making up his crack story. You have to have really been there.
Cokeheads are boring, like Kerry skiing. Crack heads are interesting, at least when they've cycled through.
Without that sense of steely resolve built on a visit to hell, Obama has been unable to truly define himself in office. The danger: he leaves it to others to define him.
The President wrote in his memoir about being a potential "junkie. Pothead. That's where I'd been headed. I got high [to] push questions of who I was out of my mind."
Now that he's long sober, he risks pushing the question of who he is out of other people's minds.
Today, it often looks like Barack Obama may still be unsure of who he is. Fortunately for him, Newt Gingrich knows.
The former House Speaker said recently that Mr. Obama has a "Kenyan, anti-colonial" view of the world. What the hell does that mean? No one's sure. But it sounds at least as hard-nosed as crack.
Causes Phil Bronstein Supports
Good Ones; anything involving the possibility of redemption.