Monday, November 26, 2007

Hannah Montana has it right: Nobody's perfect

(Originally published 11/24/07)

Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama stirred up controversy this week when he told a group of high school students about his experiences with drugs as a teenager.

Although disclosed in his book, "Dreams from my Father," this was the first time he had mentioned it on the campaign trail. He told the students that he had made "bad decisions" by experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

"There was a whole stretch of time that I didn’t really apply myself a lot," Obama said. "It wasn’t until I got out of high school and went to college that I started realizing, ‘Man, I wasted a lot of time.’"

Asked about the statements, two leading Republican presidential candidates displayed polar opposite reactions. Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani said he respected Obama’s honesty.

"We’re all human beings," he said of the candidates.

Meanwhile, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney dispatched a message from his perch atop his high horse: Obama’s statement was a "huge error," he thundered.

"It’s just not a good idea for people running for president of the U.S. who potentially could be the role model for a lot of people to talk about their personal failings while they were kids because it opens the doorway to other kids thinking, ‘Well, I can do that too and become president of the United States,’" he said.

Yes, I’m an idealist, but that statement was Pollyanna, even for me. As my daughters sing along with Disney pop star Hannah Montana, "Nobody’s perfect." Giuliani, who’s had his share of slip-ups, decried the "pretense of perfection" under which candidates are expected to operate.

"If we haven’t made mistakes, don’t vote for us," he said.

I thought Obama’s statement humanized him. He did an admirable thing by detailing his missteps - and sharing the lessons they taught him - with impressionable young people. Some of those kids may be deterred from using drugs, or inspired to quit them altogether, because of his influence. And isn’t that influence worth more than the maintenance of some plastic perfect-man persona?

It’s ludicrous for Romney - and everyone else, for that matter - to stand before voters and insinuate that they are without stain. They are lying to voters - and themselves.

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After months of dogged campaigning, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has rounded the corner in Iowa. Polls this week show him to be in a dead heat with Romney, whose personal millions poured into his Iowa efforts had him topping the polls until now. Romney took the calculated risk of alienating the influential Bowflex constituency and is poking fun at Huckabee’s celebrity endorsements (TV tough guy Chuck Norris and retired professional wrestler Ric Flair). But it’s Huckabee who may have the last laugh: His campaign raised $1 million on Tuesday alone, and he seems to have built the support of enough conservatives that he is considered a viable candidate.

A big part of successful campaigning is mastering the groupthink phenomenon. Perception is reality. If you can scrape together enough support to convince people that they aren’t throwing away their vote with you, you can go from an also-ran to a top-tier candidate in a hurry. That’s apparently what’s happening to Huckabee. He’s beginning to look like a winner in Iowa. And if he can maintain momentum, it won’t be long before the Giuliani camp starts itemizing its other 699 Pat Robertson-inspired endorsements.

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Finally, I spoke with someone recently who expressed an interest in reading more about local politics in this space. Want to share some political news, pass along a tip or story idea, check out a rumor or just ask a question about anything political? Let me know what you’re hearing out there.

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