When the Washington Post published an article earlier this month about how Mitt Romney bullied a classmate in prep school, there was much debate about whether or not the Republican presidential hopefyl should be criticized -- or held accountable for -- something he did as a teenager.
The same could be said for President Barack Obama, who, according to excerpts released from David Maraniss' upcoming biography, was kind of a stoner while attending high school in Honolulu.
There's no doubt, however, that comparing stories about the two presidential candidates' childhood emphasizes that they come from very different backgrounds. They were both the cool kids in school, but in cliques that would have hung out on the opposite side of the lunch room.
In Barack Obama: The Story, the best-selling author writes about the antics of the Choom Gang, a nickname Barry and his buddies called themselves after a verb for smoking weed.
The future president, for one, had a knack for interceptions, according to excerpts obtained by Yahoo!
When a joint was making the rounds, he often elbowed his way in, out of turn, shouted 'Intercepted!' and took an extra hit, Maraniss writes. No one seemed to mind.
The Choom Gang had rules, and Obama was a leader.
As a member of the Choom Gang, Barry Obama was known for starting a few pot-smoking trends, Maraniss writes. The first was called 'TA,' short for 'total absorption.' To place this in the physical and political contest of another young man who would grow up to be president, TA was the antithesis of Bill Clinton's claim that as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford he smoke dope but never inhaled.
Obama was a big advocate for inhaling, and the law was enforced.
When you were with Barry and his pals, if you exhaled precious pakalolo (Hawaiian slang for marijuana, meaning 'numbing tobacco') instead of absorbing it fully into your lungs, you were assessed a penalty and your turn was skipped the next time the joint came around. 'Wasting good bud smoke was not tolerated,' explained one member of the Choom Gang, Tom Topolinski, the Chinese-looking kid with a Polish name who answered to Topo.
Maraniss also writes about how Obama and his buddies would smoke up in a car - oftentimes a VW bus called the Choomwagon - and take roof hits rolling up the windows to not let any of the marijuana smoke get away.
Perhaps in what was the first signs of a future president, Obama was always democratic when getting high. They operated by consensus and anyone could veto a suggestion.
Whenever an idea was broached, someone could hold up his hand in the V sign (a backward peace sign of that era) and indicate that the motion was not approved. They later shortened the process so that you could just shout 'V' to get the point across.
Mitt Romney had already gotten his first degree at Harvard by the time Obama was rolling joints with his friends in his Honolulu hometown. When the future Republican nominee was Obama's age, though, he and his teenage friends were horsing around the brick buildings of the prestigious Cranbrook School in Michigan.
In Jason Horowitz's much-analyzed Washington Post piece, five of Romney's classmates remember a time when John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney who was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality came back to school from spring break with bleach blonde hair.
A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school's collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber's hair, Horowitz wrote. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
Romney has insisted he has no memory of the incident (he still apologized for it), but the candidate and his friends both recognize he's always been a bit of a prankster (whether or not those pranks are malicious or are in good fun is up for debate.) The campaign has made an effort to use Romney's harmless youthful hijinks -- or his wild and crazy side as wife Ann put it - to humanize the GOP hopeful.
Obama hasn't commented on the excerpts leaked from Maraniss' upcoming book, (due out in mid-June), but he did talk about the drug use in his younger days in his memoir, Dreams from my Father.
Take these stories with a grain of salt. New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait perhaps put it best when he wrote, It's tricky business to extrapolate from a teenager's behavior to conclusions about his makeup as an adult. Some of us become radically different people as we grow up, and others - as is often on display at a high-school reunion - simply become older versions of their teenage selves.
Mitt the Bully, Barack the Stoner? Applying labels is pretty high school. But it's still fun to think about what these two presidential candidates may have been like in their teenage years.