The Search for the Elusive Exploding Cigar

Late in yesterday’s show, when it came time to discuss Jason Horowitz’s story about Mitt Romney’s prep school days, Rush Limbaugh endorsed the popular theory that I’ll dub Steyn’s Law. It was Mark Steyn – a sometime Limbaugh guest host – who first suggested that media hits meant to reflect poorly on Mitt Romney inevitably blew back on Barack Obama. Brian Schweitzer mentions that the Romney family once practiced polygamy; conservatives can say, truthfully, that Barack Obama, Sr. was a bigamist. “The exploding cigars are revealing not merely of Democrat (sic) hypocrisy,” wrote Steyn, “but of a key difference in world view between liberals and conservatives.”

And so, said Limbaugh, worry not about Scissorgate. “We’re going to find out that Obama shaved a kid’s head,” joked the host, “then ate the hair, then wrote about its nutritional value.”

Limbaugh’s salvation came in the form of a much meme’d blog post drawing on Dreams From My Father. The young Obama admitted that he was once cruel to “Corretta,” who “before my arrival had been the only black person in our grade.” One day he got fed up with other kids mocking him, saying that he and Corretta were an item. Obama gave her a “slight shove,” and shouted “leave me alone,” and she ran away.

Proof! The Romney story had been neutralized, by the power of Blogs!

Well, believe it if you want to. The differences betwen the two stories start with how Obama was in middle school, while Romney was 18. Obama was responding to peer pressure in the moment – a pretty common kind of pressure, kids making fun of each other for “liking” other kids in class – while, according to Horowitz, Romney was the field marshall behind the premeditated scissor prank. Laubner is dead, but told people that the hazing bothered him. Corretta, real name Joella Edwards, was found by David Remnick and later did a TV interview about Obama.

“He was never a mean person,” she remembers in this interview. “He was always a substantive person, as far as I was concerned.” Later, “he turned on me.” But she moved on.

If I’m writing a lot about the Horowitz interview, it’s not because I think it should define Romney. The story’s an accidental cornucopia, a source of lessons in how the press covers stories that somebody else scooped, and how the members of one tribe try to discredit those who attack their chief.