Bernard Schoenburg Column

Frank talk about drug use in Obama's 'open book'

State Sen. BARACK OBAMA, D-Chicago, who is running for U.S. Senate, didn't tell all when recently asked about any past use of illegal drugs.

I know that because I found out more information in a 1995 book by - guess who - Barack Obama.

"Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance," is, according to liner notes, a "lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir" documenting how "the son of a black African father and white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American."

In his introduction, Obama says he was asked to write the book because of publicity he received as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, and he took a year off after graduation to do so. He said last week he was 33 when he wrote it. He had gone to law school after being a community organizer in Chicago. His Kenyan father and his mother, a Kansas native, met when both were students in Hawaii.

Obama, 42, told me recently he had tried marijuana in high school and hasn't consumed any illegal drugs in 20 years. When I asked if there was anything beyond marijuana in his past, Obama said, "That'll suffice."

But the book includes a passage in which Obama discusses how he dealt with questions from his mother when he was 17 and a senior in high school. The context of the book also makes clear that he was trying to deal with the problems his race presented.

"I had learned not to care," he wrote. "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. ..."

"Blow" is a street name for cocaine. "Smack" is slang for heroin.

"Junkie. Pothead. That's where I'd been headed: the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man," Obama wrote. "Except the highs hadn't been about that, me trying to prove what a down brother I was. Not by then, anyway. I got high for 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 classmate's sparkling new van, or in the dorm room of some brother you'd met down 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. ... You might just be bored, or alone. Everybody was welcome into the club of disaffection."

Obama last week apologized for not telling me earlier about his past as portrayed in the book. He said I had caught him off guard with the drug question and that, at the time, he had not wanted to overshadow his story of that day - his endorsement by the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

"My life is literally an open book," he said, referring to "Dreams of My Father."

"I was a confused kid and was making a bunch of negative choices based on stereotypes of what I thought a tough young man should be," he said of the period depicted in that section of the book. "Those choices were misguided, a serious mistake.

"Growing up to be a man involves taking responsibility," he said. "By the time I was 20, I was no longer engaged in any of this stuff.

"A lot of us make mistakes when we're kids. Part of my campaign, I think, is to be as clear and honest about who I am and how I've grown as a person over time."

Just for the record, I have been asking Senate candidates about their past drug use because I thought it fair to do so after another reporter popped the question to a GOP candidate at a news conference. Some have said they had used marijuana. Some have said they have never used illegal drugs.

Clearly, the small excerpt I have taken from Obama's 403-page book is just a tiny bit of his story.

"'Dreams from My Father' is one of the most powerful books of self-discovery I've ever read, all the more so for its illuminating insights into the problems not only of race, class, and color, but of culture and ethnicity," author and journalist CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT is quoted on the book's dust cover. "It is also beautifully written, skillfully layered, and paced like a good novel."

I'll reserve the right to say more about it, if I ever get it all read.

Blagojevich to attend

Despite some confusion, it appears that Gov. ROD BLAGOJEVICH will show up Tuesday evening at a fund-raiser for the Democratic County Chairmen's Association, which is run by the governor's director of personnel, JOHN GIANULIS of Rock Island County.

"As far as I know, he is confirmed to attend," KELLY GLYNN, finance director of Friends of Blagojevich, said on Friday.

The fund-raiser from 5-8 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza is for Gianulis' group, not the governor. An event that had been planned for later that evening to benefit the governor's campaign fund was canceled when it was found to be illegal to have such an event in Springfield on a legislative session day.

Pappas speaks

MARIA PAPPAS, the latest Democrat to enter the race for U.S. Senate, does not seem one to put on airs - at least if her appearance at the Statehouse last week is any indication.

The running shoes gave a hint. But her manner added to it.

Pappas, the Cook County treasurer, was asked how many times she'd been to Springfield in the past 10 years. She said three times - twice about legislation from her days on the Cook County Board, and a third time for last January's inauguration.

Then she apparently figured those few trips weren't worth bragging about.

"I don't think it's fair for me to stand up here and say that I'm something I'm not," she said. "I haven't been down here. ... Let's be clear about this. I haven't."

Her official biography includes this: "Pappas' passions include 'figuring out how people think,' long-distance bicycling and triathlons, her dog Koukla, playing the piano, twirling the baton, cooking, handwriting analysis and studies on early-childhood memories."

Pappas, 54, said she had talked about her race with House Speaker MICHAEL MADIGAN, D-Chicago, who is also chairman of Illinois Democrats. According to Pappas, Madigan said, "I'm with Dan" - Comptroller DAN HYNES, another Senate candidate.

"I said, 'Well, Mike, you don't really think I'm going to go away, do you?'" Pappas said.

"He laughed. He says, 'Nah, I know you're not going away.'"

Madigan's stance in the Senate race, if it exists, is not a matter of public record. I asked his spokesman, STEVE BROWN, if Madigan has taken a stand and for any reaction to Pappas' comments.

"Madigan's neutral," Brown said, "so I'll just leave it at that."

Honor for Schackmann

The Sangamon County GOP is showing its appreciation to a longtime worker and advocate - LOIS SCHACKMANN.

Schackmann, who for 20 years was executive assistant to Sangamon County GOP Chairman IRV SMITH, has had some health problems and is retired. But, Smith said in a recent letter to party regulars that she remains "buoyant" and focused on getting Republicans elected.

"Almost everyone else has had a day," Smith wrote. "She was there to make sure it went right. Now it is her turn."

Tickets to the recognition dinner for Schackmann are $20. The event is Nov. 21 at the Route 66 Motel, 625 E. St. Joseph. There's room for only 350 people.

Schackmann spent 30 years helping more than 500 girls at Illini Girls State experience Lincoln sites and meet top state officials in the capital city. Her three decades of involvement with the American Legion Auxiliary is just one of her community activities. And she has often been the helpful person answering the phone and getting things done at county GOP headquarters. And, of course, she has worked on countless campaigns.

Sangamon County Circuit Clerk TONY LIBRI and County Clerk JOE AIELLO are co-chairs of the event.

Bernard Schoenburg is political columnist for The State Journal-Register. He can be reached at 788-1540 or

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