The Right-Wing Ideologue's Guide to Obama's Teenage Pot Smoking

How to spin the president's youthful indiscretions as a window into his political philosophy -- including Obamacare's individual mandate.


A right-wing cottage industry has sprung up devoted to the idea that the media did not sufficiently vet Barack Obama four years ago. Despite their sound and fury, the person doing the most to actually reveal new information about the president's past is David Maraniss, the Washington Post reporter who is author of a forthcoming biography of the president. Earlier this month, we learned that while Obama had admitted to creating composite characters out of college girlfriends, he hadn't admitted how terrible his love letters to the young ladies were.

Today, there's another bombshell, by way of the appropriately named BuzzFeed. While Obama admitted to having dabbled in drugs while he was in high school in Hawaii, we now have a fuller accounting of the methods by which he partook. While most people agree that they wouldn't want to be judged on their high school behavior, the news provides a useful counterpoint to a Washington Post story about Romney's high-school years. While it was known that Romney attended the tony Cranbrook School, an anecdote in which Romney held an apparently gay classmate down and cut his hair reinforced the beliefs of those who see him as a bully.

Just the same, we have long known that the president liked to indulge in marijuana, and changing cultural mores over the years since Bill Clinton risibly suggested he didn't inhale mean that the majority of Americans is willing to forgive such youthful indiscretion. But that doesn't mean the right's leading ideologues can't spin the news to bash Obama. In fact, we'll save them the trouble and lay it out right now.

Take these three excerpts. And then pass them, obviously.

Barry also had a knack for interceptions. When a joint was making the rounds, he often elbowed his way in, out of turn, shouted "Intercepted!," and took an extra hit. No one seemed to mind.

Even Mitt Romney, a famously abstemious individual who has never touched pot, could tell you that this is a terrible breach of etiquette. But what does it say about Obama? The practice of "interceptions" is a handy microcosm of the socialist state. On the one hand, the object is ostensibly shared evenly, to produce an equal distribution of something green (money or marijuana). On the other hand, it shows young Barry's already emerging proclivities for centralization of power and confiscation of resources, through arbitrary taxation, properly belonging to others. Most dangerous is the reaction of his peers: Just as many Americans seem untroubled by or unwilling to acknowledge the danger posed by the current administration's leftward slide, Obama's fellow members of the "Choom Gang"* didn't "seem to mind" his blatant interference. Hail to the cheef indeed.

Another incident only confirms this idea.

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.

What better metaphor for Obamacare? The Affordable Care Act's individual mandate seeks to penalize those who don't act in what the government feels is their best interest (i.e., purchasing health insurance) by extracting a tax from them; the idea is that if they don't pay for insurance, society as a whole would be forced to do so. Even as a teenager, Obama was devising similar rules for social interaction. Wasteful exhalation penalized all members of the group; if one individual didn't fully use their toke, they'd just want to smoke more. So Obama devised a tax on those who weren't willing to conform -- and in the process, centralized authority into an ever-more-powerful quasi-governmental regime.

One final piece from Maraniss' book:

They parked single file on the grassy edge, turned up their stereos playing Aerosmith, Blue Oyster Cult, and Stevie Wonder, lit up some "sweet-sticky Hawaiian buds" and washed it down with "green bottle beer" (the Choom Gang preferred Heineken, Becks, and St. Pauli Girl).

Now this actually is disturbing. Stevie Wonder aside, this reveals shockingly bad taste in both music and beer. Shame on Barry.


*Yes, satire aside, that is really what they called themselves; and yes, it's as ridiculous as it seems.

Presented by

David A. Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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