The Vetting of Mitt Romney Reveals Him as a Square

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President Obama's adviser David Axelrod sounded confident and a little mystical in October when he said of the Republican presidential candidates, "Campaigns are like an MRI for the soul — whoever you are, eventually people find out." But the vetting of Mitt Romney has not revealed him to have a terrible dark side. Instead, it's painted a picture of him as a fun-killing square. Here are some things we've learned about Romney in the last few weeks: He cut off a high school classmate's gay hair, he kept a police uniform in his college dorm, and he makes his neighbors quit smoking weed on the beach near his La Jolla, California home. Conservatives are outraged that Romney is being vetted so intensely, saying Obama got a pass in 2008. But they should relax. The stories about Romney aren't damaging character assassinations. They just make him seem like a dork.

Last week, Politico argued the vetting of Romney was way harsher than the vetting of Obama,  story the Atlantic Wire thought was born less of facts than of scoop envy. But the outrage is spreading. Mediaite's Frances Martel is outraged that MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell picked up a story Wednesday by National Memo's Joe Conason in which a Stanford classmate of Romney's says, on the record, that Romney had a Michigan State Trooper uniform in his closet. Romney allegedly told his fellow freshman that he liked to dress up like a cop. Martel compares the to a 2010 story alleging that Sen. Rand Paul forced a girl to smoke weed and praise the great god "Aqua Buddha" in college: 

It, like the attack on Romney here, also had no bearing on the candidate as a public servant, and didn’t really corroborate or enhance any potential voters’ fears about the candidate. It was just weird.

Martel is right: It is weird. That's why it's interesting! This was the late 1960s! Romney was supposed to be getting high and complaining about "the Man." Instead, he was impersonating the Man. It's not a damaging story, but that doesn't make it a less fascinating one.

There was even more outrage on MSNBC's Morning Joe Thursday. Host Joe Scarborough pointed to a story by The New York Times' Michael Barbaro about the Romneys' renovations of their La Jolla house (pictured above), in which some neighbors gossip about the Romney's renovations, their Secret Service detail, and Romney's anti-weed crusade. Scarborough railed about the story as his panelists mostly nodded along. "It's become farce with The New York Times!" he said. "The New York Times dispatched reporters to Mitt Romney's La Jolla home, went around the neighborhood, found every Democrat they could to trash Mitt, and in fact they admitted as much, saying that personal political animus contributed to some of these hateful statements." Scarborough asks Time's Mark Halperin, whether in 2004, the Times ever trolled the rich people who lived around John Kerry's palaces. "Oh I think I would remember something like that," Halperin responded with his signature grin, and without committing to a definitive answer.

Scarborough complained that "The subtext… is that 'the Romneys are rich.'" Well, thee Kerrys were way richer -- not that there's anything wrong with that, he insisted -- and their houses were way bigger compared to the Romney's  "La Jolla fixer-upper." But the focus of the story isn't that the Romneys are rich. The house has just three bedrooms, Barbaro notes. And it's the Romneys personalities that provide the most interesting anecdotes. For example:

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.”

The big reveal in all of the stories looking into Romneys past is that he's kind of a square. That's fitting, because he's a human being running for a godlike office, and his image needs to be deflated a bit. Did Obama get the same treatment? Yes! Despite Politico's complaints that there was a lack of coverage of Obama's teenage drug use, on February 9, 2008, The New York Times' Serge F. Kovalski explored the subject under the headline, "Old Friends Say Drugs Played Bit Part in Obama’s Young Life," Slate's Jeremy Stahl points out. The story argued (wrongly, it turns out) that Obama had overplayed all the drugs he did as a kid. It made Obama seem like a dork, just like all these Romney stories are doing now.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.