I realize that during campaign season, talking about a month-old scandal is like slapping platform shoes and a Nehru jacket, but I just found myself thinking about the case of Bill Shaheen, Hillary Clinton’s former New Hampshire campaign co-chair, who had to resign after suggesting that Barack Obama—who has admitted using marijuana and cocaine as a young man—would be pressed in a general election to answer questions about whether he had ever been a cocaine dealer. Now, this was rightly regarded as incredibly slimy, and perhaps also as an attempt to invoke ugly racial stereotypes. But then it seems as though, at some point, some kind of consensus was reached that bringing up the candidates drug history at all was some kind of sleazy, dirty campaigning. Recall this exchange from Hardball:
MARK PENN, CLINTON CHIEF STRATEGIST: Well, I think we‘ve made clear that the—the issue related to cocaine use is not something that the campaign was in any way raising and I think that‘s been made clear. I think this kindergarten thing was a joke after Senator.
JOE TRIPPI, ADVISER TO JOHN EDWARDS: I think you just said it again.
You just said it again.
PENN: This kindergarten thing after this—what the senator did.
TRIPPI: Unbelievable. They just literally.
PENN: Excuse me. Excuse me.
TRIPPI: No, no. Excuse me. This guy has been (INAUDIBLE) around as he just said cocaine again. It‘s like.
PENN: I think you‘re saying cocaine.
TRIPPI: No, no. This is quite—no, no. You just did and I think there‘s something wrong.
PENN: I don‘t know. I think you‘re saying that. I don‘t know why you‘re saying that.
Now, this is all right with me: I think the laws prohibiting cocaine and marijuana are foolish and wrong, that there’s nothing especially shameful about having used them, and that so long as we’re talking about use that ended long ago, it’s a private matter that shouldn’t be used as campaign fodder. What I find surprising—or at any rate, inconsistent—is that so many folks in mainstream politics and media seem to be on board with that third point given how few are prepared to publicly endorse the first two. Because our government does, in fact, send people to prison for using cocaine and marijuana. And it seems a little odd to get the vapors at the prospect of anyone criticizing a candidate for behavior that they concede, at least tacitly, it would have been perfectly legitimate to lock him away for.