Thursday, 15 September 2011

Did Sarah Palin take drugs? And does it matter? After all, Obama took the White House despite admitting he inhaled

The Golden Latrine once snorted a sherbet fountain on the school bus in the mistaken belief that he would experience profound spiritual insight and euphoria. What actually resulted was a profound sneezing fit and a week's worth of blocked sinuses.

Seriously though, drugs are no laughing matter (well, except for nitrous oxide). While our elected representatives may, on occasion, take cash in brown-paper envelopes or conduct steamy affairs with high-class vice girls, surely none of them have stooped so low to dabble in controlled substances? Wasn't the message on Grange Hill clear enough? Just say no.

Imagine my shock then on reading that US presidential hopeful Sarah Palin has been accused of using cocaine and marijuana in a new "tell-all" biography. While the image of Palin hoofing coke off the side of a snowmobile and getting stoned with a groovy college professor is undoubtedly an enticing one, the evidence for the accusations seems pretty sketchy.

But if it was true, the model for responding to these kind of allegations has to be Conservative MP, chick-lit author and walking self-advert Louise Mensch. After speaking eloquently as a member of the Select Committee responsible for grilling Murdoch senior and junior, she was (entirely coincidentally, I might add) contacted by a journalist who said they had information that she had taken drugs in a nightclub with violinist Nigel Kennedy while working in the music industry.

Her tactic for dealing with this accusation? Outright denial? Cowering in fear? Getting straight on the blower to Max Clifford for some hasty "image management"? None of the above. She simply admitted it sounded likely, but her memory of the particular night was unclear (presumably because her head was clouded with said substances).

What a breath of fresh air! And what a change it made to the parade of New Labour politicians coming out to mumble and sheepishly admit to smoking cannabis, once or twice, when they were students. Alistair Darling even felt obliged to state that didn't like the taste (echoes of Clinton's "I did not inhale").

Before we jump on the bandwagon and condemn politicians for being elusive and mealy-mouthed, we should ask ourselves why they are so cagey about revealing details of past indiscretions. The truth is, our culture expects our elected representatives to be whiter-than-white - take instance, the outpouring of public anger at the expenses scandal (despite the fact fiddling your expenses is almost a national sport). Who among us hasn't got past experiences we aren't proud of? A person with no regrets would be a very boring person indeed.

But does the Louise Mensch drug-use story perhaps indicate that we are moving beyond such retrospective moral hand-wringing? Lurid stories of Chancellor George Osborne's alleged drug use have hit the news again this week, but let's remember that evidence of past use hasn't been an impediment to either of the last two US Presidents: George W Bush was a recovering alcoholic and Obama openly discussed using marajuana and cocaine in his memoir, Dreams from My Father . Obama even went on record to confirm that he inhaled , adding: "That was the point".

The truth is that both Brits and Americans love the idea of redemption - hence the phenonemal success of the X-Factor with its sob stories and "this is my last shot" narrative arcs. What the public demand is not that our politicians are squeaky clean, but that they are simply honest enough to come clean about their pasts.

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