Intercepted! Mitt Romney Harshes His California Neighbors' Mellow

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It's strange that the Republican candidate goes out of his way to mess with dope smokers. But at least he's consistent -- unlike Obama.

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The Romney family recently bought this ocean-front home in La Jolla, California. (Reuters)

It's an interesting look into the American psyche that even now, four years after the housing bubble brought the national economy to its knees, few things have the power to fascinate like real estate. And there's no better example than Mitt Romney's house in La Jolla, California.

First there was the infamous car elevator. In today's New York Times, Michael Barbaro visits La Jolla and gets the Romney family's neighbors to dish on their gripes about the relatively new arrivals. Many of those complaints are exactly what one might expect. A good number of the adjacent homeowners are liberal, and take issue with the former Massachusetts governor's politics, though there's no reason one can't enjoy a barbecue with an ideological adversary. There's some standard NIMBYism about the Romney family's plans to drastically renovate the property. And others are upset about the presence of Secret Service agents, an inconvenience that the Romneys can't do much about.

One particular gripe sticks out, though.

The Romneys rarely entertain neighbors, but they have tried to weave themselves into the fabric of local life. Mr. Romney and his wife take regular walks around La Jolla, exchanging pleasantries with fellow strollers and occasionally enforcing the law. A young man in town recalled that Mr. Romney confronted him as he smoked marijuana and drank on the beach last summer, demanding that he stop.

The issue appears to be a recurring nuisance for the Romneys. Mr. Quint, who lives on the waterfront near Mr. Romney, said that a police officer had asked him, on a weekend when the candidate was in town, to report any pot smoking on the beach. The officer explained to him that "your neighbors have complained," Mr. Quint recalled. "He was pretty clear that it was the Romneys."

Romney is a famously clean liver, largely as a result of his devout Mormonism. Last year, he admitted to People that as a teenager he puffed a cigarette and sipped a beer once, and his regret about the incident -- he described himself as "wayward" for that indiscretion -- was palpable. No one begrudges him that lifestyle. But his zeal to for going out of his way to stop those who indulge themselves certainly does nothing to diminish his reputation as extremely square and distant from today's youth.

It also seems ... well, a bit paternalistic and unrealistic. Fifty percent of Americans support legalizing weed; four in 10 have tried it. It's also the sort of thing that drives civil libertarians, a small but noisy and staunch faction of the Republican Party nuts -- both in itself, and as a symptom of his attitudes about civil liberties in general. The ACLU just this week launched a billboard campaign attacking Romney for abandoning support for civil liberties; one of the boards is in La Jolla. Former GOP presidential candidate Gary Johnson, a legalization advocate now running on the Libertarian ticket, has a golden opening to make hay with the Times story.

Moreover, it's Cali, maaan -- pot's a part of the culture. Ironically, Massachusetts in 2008 decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, so it seems he can't escape the stuff. Or, to put it another way, the trees aren't the right height.

On the other hand, Romney has the virtue of consistency and no taint of hypocrisy on the matter -- which is more than we can say for Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton, all of whom enjoyed pot in their youths but fiercely opposed legalizing it, even for medical purposes, in the Oval Office. The current president's impressive record as a stoner was a news story two weeks ago, but Obama has vigorously prosecuted the War on Drugs, as Mike Riggs points out.

Can't all these guys just, like, relax and pass the Funyuns?

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David A. Graham

David 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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