By Carol Costello WASHINGTON (CNN) — Does a good role model talk about using illegal drugs? Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama started the debate when he admitted to a high school audience in New Hampshire that he had experimented with drugs while he was in high school. “There were times when I got into drinking, experimenting with drugs. There was a stretch of time where I did not really apply myself,” Obama said. He added that when he left for college he realized he wasted a lot of time using drugs. “It’s not something I’m proud of,” Obama said. “It was a mistake as a young man.”
What a change from Bill Clinton’s 1992 admission that he had smoked marijuana a time or two and didn’t like it. “And I didn’t inhale and didn’t try it again.” “I never understood that line,” Obama said, who said he did inhale marijuana when asked by a student. “The point was to inhale. That was the point.” Clinton’s admission has become a cultural joke. Obama’s comments? If you ask Republican rival Mitt Romney, Obama’s comments were too honest.
“I think in order to leave the best possible example for our kids, we’re probably wisest not to talk about our own indiscretions in great detail,” Romney said. Romney isn’t alone in that belief. When George W. Bush was governor of Texas in 1999, he talked briefly about his use of alcohol, but refused to talk about other drugs because he feared kids might think what he did was “cool.”
Bush said at the time, “It is irrelevant what I did 20 or 30 years ago. What’s relevant is that I have learned from the mistakes that I made.” So what’s a role model to do? Should he be discreet or open about past indiscretions? According to Steve Pasierb, president of Partnership for a Drug-Free America, Obama is right on the money. Pasierb says kids are not naive; they know people in high places have experimented with drugs.
“The key is to be honest and to put it the context of saying I did this and it was a dumb choice,” Pasierb said. “Obama talked about how it wasn’t the right thing to do. When he got serious about his life, he left it behind. If he were to lie, I think most kids would know.”
Pasierb says the worst thing to do is feed kids a story they’re not likely to believe. In other words, never tell them that you tried it, but didn’t inhale. “Most kids are going to see right through that and will ask themselves, ‘How could you know if you didn’t like it if you didn’t inhale?'” Pasierb said. “Clearly not recognizing something when you did it is probably not the best course.”
Pasierb says role models and parents should not be afraid to admit they did the deed. “Really the truth works best. You owe your kids honesty,” he said. “But you don’t need to tell them every little detail. You don’t have to give them blow by blow.” Is talking about past drug use the best thing for a someone running for president? That’s a question much harder to answer.
According to a 2007 Pew Research poll, 45 percent of Americans would be less likely to support a candidate for president who had used drugs. Obama has to hope his honesty with kids translates in a good way to the adults deciding whether to vote for him.