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Commentary: Drug rumors about Obama playing on stereotypes?

  • Story Highlights
  • As Obama pierces Clinton's campaign, Clintonistas react poorly, Navarrette says
  • Billy Shaheen resigned after floating the rumor that young Obama was drug dealer
  • Co-chair of Clinton's NH campaign wouldn't make rookie error, Navarrette says
  • Navarrette: Willie Horton-type tactic intended to harvest fear and play on stereotypes?
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By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
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SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Ever since Barack Obama began to pierce the inevitability that we were told surrounded the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, I've wondered how the Clintonistas would react. Now we know: not well.

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Ruben Navarrette Jr.: The harder Team Clinton tries to destroy Obama, the more damage they do to Hillary.

For one thing, as we learned in the 1990s, the Clintons don't like to be challenged. And when they are, they don't just try to beat you. They set out to destroy you.

Which makes recent events even more poetic. The harder Team Clinton tries to destroy Obama, the more damage they wind up doing -- to Hillary and her campaign. Just when you thought that the former first lady couldn't come across any more unlikable, desperate, and vindictive, the floor collapses and we find ourselves on a new level.

Last week, Billy Shaheen, Clinton's co-chairman in New Hampshire, resigned from the campaign after floating the rumor that Obama, in his youth, may have been not just a drug user but a drug dealer. Shaheen speculated to a Washington Post reporter that Obama's past could make him unelectable if the Illinois senator wins the nomination and those dastardly Republicans, who are famous for their dirty tricks, decide to make an issue of Obama's admitted past drug use. Shaheen suggested that Republicans might want to know if Obama, in addition to using drugs, ever sold them?

First, Republicans notwithstanding, apparently Democrats know some dirty tricks of their own. Secondly, Shaheen needs to get real. Given that -- according to his biography -- he went to college in the 1960s, and law school in the early 1970s, do you suppose he knows anyone who ever used drugs? Through his association with the Clintons, he knows at least one person who used them but "didn't inhale."

Finally, despite Shaheen's insistence that he just made a mistake and assurances by a spokesman for the Clinton camp that his comments weren't "authorized or condoned by the campaign in any way," that's a stretch. Shaheen is no political rookie. He is a veteran political operative whose work on presidential campaigns goes back to Jimmy Carter's re-election bid in 1980, and who has worked on numerous campaigns since then -- including those of his wife, former New Hampshire governor Jean Shaheen. Besides, this is the Hillary Clinton campaign we're talking about. It doesn't make many mistakes.

But could it be that this story is even worse than many in the national press will say? Isn't it interesting that Shaheen, or whoever is behind this, opted to invoke the image of a drug dealer in referencing the first top-tier black candidate for president? That's quite a coincidence. This wouldn't be an ugly Willie Horton-type tactic intended to harvest fear and play on stereotypes about who is a criminal and who isn't, or -- in this case -- who uses drugs and who sells them?

Nah. Liberal Democrats would never sink that low. Why if they did, how could they continue to package themselves as a kinder and gentler -- and more enlightened -- alternative to Republicans? Certainly not with a straight face.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist. You can read his column here.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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