Up to that point in time, it was rare for a candidate for public office, let alone someone with presidential aspirations, to admit to any drug use. Al Gore had admitted to having tried marijuana, and Bill Clinton famously said that he had used marijuana, but that he did not inhale. But Obama admitted that as a teenager living in Hawaii, he had tried a number of mood altering substances. He wrote:
"I had learned not to care. 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—Mickey, my potentional intiator had been just a little too eager for me to go through with that."
"Blow" is a term for cocaine, while "smack" refers to heroin. Of his drug use, Obama told the New York times, "It was reflective of the struggles and confusion of a teenage boy. Teenage boys are frequently confused."
In the book, he went on to describe his drug use as follows:
"Junkie. Pothead. That’s where I’d be headed: the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man. Except the highs hadn’t been about that, me trying to prove what a down brother I was. Not by then anyway. I got 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 classmmate’s sparkling new van, or in the dorm room of some brother you’d met 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."
Obama was praised for his honesty in admitting to have done something that many American youth have participated in. The issue resurfaced during the 2008 election after a November 2007 speech at a New Hampshire high school. Obama told the students, "I've made some bad decisions that I've actually written about." He told the students that his "drinking and experimenting with drugs" accounted for a lot of "wasted time" in high school. He was immediately criticized by his opponents, including Republican candidate Mitt Romney, for discussing these examples with students. Romney said: "In order to leave the best possible example for our kids, we're probably wisest not to talk about our own indiscretions in great detail."
But GOP candidate Rudy Giuliani praised Obama's candor, stating "I respect his honesty." Partnership for a Drug-Free America president Stephen J. Pasierb told CNN: "Really the truth works best when discussing drug use with kids." Bill Shaheen, the co-chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign in New Hampshire, mentioned the drug use in a December 12 conference call with reporters, stating that if Obama were to win the nomination, Republicans would use Obama's admissions against him in a general election. He suggested that Republicans would ask, "'When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?'" and added that these kinds of "Republican dirty tricks" would be difficult to overcome. Hillary Clinton denounced the comments and personally apologized to Obama. Obama's campaign manager David Axelrod accused the Clinton campaign of giving a "wink and a nod" to negative tactics.
Obama's admission did not seem to have any negative effect in his two election campaigns. Those put off by the admission were likely people who were never going to vote for him in any case. The proof came in the election results. In 2008 Obama won almost 53% of the popular vote and 365 electoral votes. The popular vote percentage was the best showing for any presidential candidate since George H.W. Bush in 1988. His 365 electoral votes was the best showing since Bill Clinton had 379 in 1996.