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Clinton vs. Obama: Playing the drug card

"The politics of desperation is never pretty,

"The politics of desperation is never pretty,” said Wesley Pruden in The Washington Times, “but it’s always instructive.” Desperation is what we’re now witnessing from Hillary Clinton, whose once “inevitable” march to the Democratic nomination has suddenly gotten bumpy—and ugly. With Clinton falling behind Barack Obama in Iowa on the eve of its crucial caucuses, Clinton campaign co-chairman Bill Shaheen last week coyly raised the issue of Obama’s admission that he used drugs as a teen, saying Republicans might have a field day questioning when Obama last used drugs, and even whether he had been a dealer. Shaheen was forced to resign. But the low blow made Hillary look mean and desperate, especially since a few days earlier, her campaign had tried to paint Obama as overly ambitious because he said in kindergarten that he’d hoped to be president someday. Surely, no one can be surprised, said William Kristol in The Weekly Standard. As Hillary said just before she started this barrage of “Clintonian” attacks, “Well, now the fun part starts.” Even Democrats may finally be starting to realize what it would be like with “the Clintons back on the center stage of American politics.”

Raising Obama’s drug history clearly was a “huge blunder,” said John Dickerson in Slate.com. Democrats saw it as a dirty trick, especially since Hillary is always complaining about “the politics of personal destruction.” That said, Democrats shouldn’t pretend that Obama’s admitted use of marijuana and cocaine is always going to be off-limits. Republicans would dredge that up, and whatever other dirt they can find. Nor is the Obama camp above such hard-knuckled tactics. Obama aides often talk about how Republicans will “delight” in bringing up Whitewater, Monica, and other lowlights from the Bill Clinton years. They’ve even privately tried to interest journalists in looking into Bill’s “post–White House sex life.” At least Shaheen’s comments were “in the open and on the record.”

But if it’s candor and openness you want, said Joan Vennochi in The Boston Globe, Obama has the clear advantage over anyone named Clinton. Hillary’s husband once famously said that he tried marijuana, but “didn’t inhale.” Contrast that with the self-deprecating honesty Obama has used in describing his troubled adolescence, when he experimented with cocaine and marijuana before turning his life around. “I inhaled,” he said on the campaign trail. “That was the point.” Can a politician that honest get elected president? We’ll soon find out. “Voters must decide how much truth they can handle. Maybe that’s also when they decide how much truth they deserve.”

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