Pubdate: Sun, 16 Nov 2003
Source: State Journal-Register (IL)
Copyright: 2003 The State Journal-Register
Author: Bernard Schoenburg


State Sen. BARACK OBAMA, D-Chicago, who is running for U.S. Senate,
didn't tell all when recently asked about any past use of illegal drugs.

I know that because I found out more information in a 1995 book by - guess
who - Barack Obama.

"Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance," is, according to
liner notes, a "lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir" documenting
how "the son of a black African father and white American mother searches
for a workable meaning to his life as a black American."

In his introduction, Obama says he was asked to write the book because
of publicity he received as the first black president of the Harvard
Law Review, and he took a year off after graduation to do so. He said
last week he was 33 when he wrote it. He had gone to law school after
being a community organizer in Chicago. His Kenyan father and his
mother, a Kansas native, met when both were students in Hawaii.

Obama, 42, told me recently he had tried marijuana in high school and
hasn't consumed any illegal drugs in 20 years. When I asked if there
was anything beyond marijuana in his past, Obama said, "That'll
suffice." But the book includes a passage in which Obama discusses how
he dealt with questions from his mother when he was 17 and a senior in
high school. The context of the book also makes clear that he was
trying to deal with the problems his race presented.

"I had learned not to care," he wrote. "I blew a few smoke rings,
remembering those years. Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little
blow when you could afford it. Not smack, though. ..."

"Blow" is a street name for cocaine. "Smack" is slang for

"Junkie. Pothead. That's where I'd been headed: the final, fatal role
of the young would-be black man," Obama wrote. "Except the highs
hadn't been about that, me trying to prove what a down brother I was.
Not by then, anyway. I got high for just the opposite effect,
something that could push questions of who I was out of my mind,
something that could flatten out the landscape of my heart, blur the
edges of my memory. I had discovered that it didn't make any
difference whether you smoked reefer in the white classmate's
sparkling new van, or in the dorm room of some brother you'd met down
at the gym, or on the beach with a couple of Hawaiian kids who had
dropped out of school and now spent most of their time looking for an
excuse to brawl. ... You might just be bored, or alone. Everybody was
welcome into the club of disaffection."

Obama last week apologized for not telling me earlier about his past
as portrayed in the book. He said I had caught him off guard with the
drug question and that, at the time, he had not wanted to overshadow
his story of that day - his endorsement by the Illinois Federation of

"My life is literally an open book," he said, referring to "Dreams of
My Father."

"I was a confused kid and was making a bunch of negative choices based
on stereotypes of what I thought a tough young man should be," he said
of the period depicted in that section of the book. "Those choices
were misguided, a serious mistake.

"Growing up to be a man involves taking responsibility," he said. "By
the time I was 20, I was no longer engaged in any of this stuff.

"A lot of us make mistakes when we're kids. Part of my campaign, I
think, is to be as clear and honest about who I am and how I've grown
as a person over time."

Just for the record, I have been asking Senate candidates about their
past drug use because I thought it fair to do so after another
reporter popped the question to a GOP candidate at a news conference.
Some have said they had used marijuana. Some have said they have never
used illegal drugs.

Clearly, the small excerpt I have taken from Obama's 403-page book is
just a tiny bit of his story.

"'Dreams from My Father' is one of the most powerful books of
self-discovery I've ever read, all the more so for its illuminating
insights into the problems not only of race, class, and color, but of
culture and ethnicity," author and journalist CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT
is quoted on the book's dust cover. "It is also beautifully written,
skillfully layered, and paced like a good novel."

I'll reserve the right to say more about it, if I ever get it all
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin