Something has happened slowly of the course of 25-30 years to diminish the industry, if you will, of politics. It’s no longer the profession that it used to be. You’d have to be out of your mind to run for public office today. Say you’re 32, 35 years of age. Say you were fortunate, you lucked out, you made a little money, or maybe not, but you have this great interest in public service. You want to be able to get a fire hydrant or a crosswalk, or a little league field in your neighborhood. So you run for City Council or State Rep., you know, but then two or three months over the course of your campaign or maybe after you win, someone like me, or someone like you, is going to come knock at your door, and say “James, we heard you smoked a joint when you were 19 years of age down at Duke University. Can you explain that?” And instead of having the wherewithal to tell people like us, “Hey, go f**k yourself, it’s none of your business,” you know, these poor people stand there and get hounded by us.
So I’ve got to assume there are a lot of other people out there with reasonable IQs who say, “I don’t want any part of that. I don’t want my kids reading about me in the front page of the paper that I smoked a joint when I was at Duke University. What has that got to do with anything?”
Thinking back to the 1987 failure of Douglas Ginsburg’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Barnicle’s observation makes some sense, but I think the political world has matured considerably in the ensuing 20 years.
My impression is that voters simply no longer care, and as a result, there’s little incentive for media outlets to pursue these “controversies.” Indeed, if and when reporters pursue this, the public tends to collectively roll their eyes. As Jason Zengerle noted, Barack Obama admitted teenaged drug use and it “didn’t bring him any grief from reporters,” or voters, for that matter.
There’s a line for personal indiscretions that’s often hard to identify, but it doesn’t seem to apply to decisions from one’s youth. People out there with reasonable IQs with a great interest in public service should rest easy — no one cares what they did in college.