Jordan Bloom riffs off the news that Barack Obama was a teenage pothead. Unlike my whippersnappery young TAC colleague, I’m old enough to remember when it was a rilly big deal that Bill Clinton might have smoked pot that one time as an undergraduate in Oxford. I’m pretty sure that nobody’s going to give a fig about Obama’s marijuana use. What has changed?
I’m a social and religious conservative, don’t smoke pot, never have smoked pot, don’t have any close friends who smoke pot (around me, at least), and as far as I can remember, haven’t been around people smoking pot since my twenties (I’m 45). I’m pretty sure I don’t think pot should be legalized, but I don’t have strong feelings about it.
And I sure don’t care that President Obama was a teenage pothead.
Why not? Because I knew so many people in college who smoked pot recreationally, and turned out okay. If I concluded that anybody who smoked pot as a young person was therefore unfit for high public office, I wouldn’t be able to vote for many of the smartest and most capable people I know. And I wouldn’t be able to explain why in any way that made sense, even to myself.
I’m wondering if the erosion of the strict taboo against drug use, at least in one’s youth, has to do with the fact that so many of us have known, or at least been around, marijuana users for a long time. We know that most people can use the stuff without ruining their lives, or disqualifying themselves from public service. If so, then it tracks with the erosion of the taboo against homosexuality among younger Americans, who have had more direct experience of being around gay people.
For those who still believe a pot habit in high school and/or college is disqualifying, I suppose that’s based on a strong moral argument against drug use. I can respect that, even though I don’t really share the sentiment to that degree. Same thing with homosexuality. My objection to it is moral and theological, and I have particular reasons for wanting to privilege traditional marriage. But having grown up around so many gay folks, I know that being gay is not disqualifying for public service, and that some of the men and women who have had the most integrity have been gay. In other words, I may disapprove of homosexual behavior, just as I may disapprove of drug use, but I don’t think either are some big crazy-bad thing that ruins someone’s chances for holding office.
My only point is it’s interesting how the political salience of these two issues has run on parallel generational tracks. Or am I missing something?