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Margaret Carlson Headshot

For Obama, It's Public Character That Counts

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The snows of New Hampshire and Iowa had barely turned a slushy brown with the footprints of presidential aspirants before a front-page story in yesterday's Washington Post raised the question of cocaine use by one of them.

What took so long, you ask? In his first book more than a decade ago, Senator Barack Obama was open about trying drugs as a teenager. ``Junkie. Pothead. That's where I'd been headed: the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man,'' Obama wrote, as he tried to ``push questions of who I was out of my mind.''

Those are questions asked and answered in Obama's two books. The Illinois Democrat is calm and deliberative, poised and warm. He couldn't have gotten there without facing the dilemmas posed by being the son of a Kenyan father who vanished when he was 2 and a white woman from Kansas who raised him.

During his Senate campaign, he said he offered those revelations so young people in far more difficult straits would ``know that you can make mistakes and still recover.'' It's up to voters, he said, to decide whether to judge him by ``dumb things'' he did as a teenager or ``the work that I've done since that time.''

The tempest over dumb things must have every candidate asking: Should anything personally unflattering come out about me, will I be given a free pass like George Bush or hounded like Bill Clinton?

Read the whole column here.