The Rant 

Ordinarily, the school-days hi-jinks of candidates for the highest office are irrelevant, unless you're George W. Bush and you've gone AWOL from your National Guard unit for over a year. But a couple of stories surfaced last month, each about the two presidential contenders' youthful student "pranks," which may help shed light on the candidates' character.

The first investigative piece was about Barack Obama's liberal use of herbaceous materials as a student at Occidental College; the second concerned Mitt Romney's assault on a long-haired classmate when he was a senior at an elite prep school in Bloomfield, Michigan. According to witnesses, young Mitt was incensed at the appearance of an eccentric young man who had the gall to grow his hair long. Romney led a group of students through a dormitory until they found the offending party, tackled him, and pinned him to the ground, while Mitt hacked away at his hair with a scissors. The rueful participants claimed it was something they could "never forget," except for the Barber of Bloomfield who said, "I don't recall the incident myself, but I've seen the reports and I'm not going to argue with that." Unfortunately, the victim of the attack, John Lauber, who died in 2004, was unavailable for comment.

The revelations about Obama's school years come from David Maraniss' new book, Barack Obama: The Story. College classmates claim that young Barack was a copious user of the "sticky-green" and invented novel ways in which to smoke it, including "chooming a doobie." I had never heard that expression, but for the uninitiated, I would assume it's synonymous with "burning a fatty" or the "smoking of a marijuana cigarette." "Barry" was also known to invent some smoking trends. One was called "T.A.," short for "total absorption." Another was called "roof hits," where a bunch of guys smoked pot in a car with all the windows sealed, until they tilted their heads back and inhaled the remaining smoke from the cloud in the ceiling above. Obama also had a tendency to leap forward in a pot circle shouting, "Intercepted," and take a hit out of turn, but one schoolmate said, "No one seemed to mind."

I appreciate an imaginative leader who takes the initiative.

The stories about Mitt Romney's prep school days at the Cranbrook School, first reported in The Washington Post, are far more troubling. Mitt is my age, so when I say that I know guys like Romney, I mean I know guys exactly like Romney. When long hair first came to Knoxville, there was an unexpected reaction from the locals. Rather than correctly assume that these were the same students as before who had just grown their hair out over summer vacation, some of the citizenry reacted as if they were under alien attack. There were accounts of roving Melungeons harassing the hippies, always in groups, including reports of malicious hair-cuttings similar to the Romney incident. Ultimately, there were areas of town that long-hairs learned to avoid. 

Among the students who accompanied Romney on his hair-cutting foray, one recently recounted the events for the record and said, "When you see somebody who is simply different taken down that way and is terrified and you see that look in their eye, you never forget it." Although Romney claims to have forgotten it, the remorseful rabble with him that night remembered returning to their rooms shouting in triumph. A witness referred to it as "assault and battery."

Confronting the accusations on Fox News, Romney explained, "As to pranks that were played back then, I don't remember them all, but again, high school days, I did stupid things. ... And if anyone was hurt by that or offended, obviously I would apologize for that." Later, he expounded that some of his pranks "might have gone too far." I did stupid things in high school too, but that never included leading an assault on a hapless, helpless victim of nonconformity. I just did things like grow my hair long. Obama has publicly taken responsibility for his cocaine and pot use as a young man. Romney can't seem to remember anything.

Romney became an honor student at Brigham Young University, where everyone looked like him: finely coiffed, well-groomed, and white. No one to bully in Provo. In fact, the university had an honor code that included: no bad language, alcohol, tobacco, tea, or coffee and to "observe dress and grooming standards, and live a chaste and virtuous life." The Mormon college also encouraged "undergraduate marriages," so Mitt married young.

Nothing wrong with any of that, but here I had always thought that college was for raising hell and indulging in the pursuit of happiness, along with all those books and such. I believe that my college experience is more typical than Mitt Romney's. So is Barack Obama's, whose indulgences did potential harm only to himself and no one else. While Obama was doing "roof hits," Romney was doing post-mortem Mormon baptisms in Salt Lake City.

Remember back when George Bush was running against Al Gore in 2000 and a lot of people decided to vote for Bush because "he was the kind of guy that you could sit down and have a beer with"? Well, Bush didn't drink beer, and neither does Mitt Romney. But if presidential preferences are determined by such inane attributes, I'd rather choom a doobie with Barack than be part of a hair-hacking posse led by the pampered and privileged son of a governor.


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    • Equally Educated?

      The playing field at our schools must be leveled if all students are to thrive.
    • The Long Way

      We must be hard on ourselves and on our leaders — and exacting in our vision of justice.


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