National Voices

Saturday, Sep 08 2012 10:00 PM

ESTHER CEPEDA: Sending the wrong message to youthful voters

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    Esther Cepeda

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CHICAGO -- Tone deafness is a bipartisan ailment. It seems to strike when least expected, with painful consequences.

Take Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, who's recently had a few verbal fumbles. She turned off some Hispanics gathered at the Republican National Convention's Latino Coalition luncheon when she referred to Puerto Ricans as "you people." Her defenders, and even some of her detractors, were level-headed enough to note that she's not prone to arrogance or using coded language, she simply uses the phase frequently in her everyday speech.

But whether it's said to a "Good Morning America" journalist, as happened last July during the height of the furor for the Romneys to make public their past tax returns, or to members of a special-interest group, it's time for Ann Romney to drop the phrase from her vocabulary.

Though I generally like Ann Romney, she really ticked me off the day after the "you people" incident when she told a reporter that women were considering voting for Mitt Romney because "it's time for the grown-up to come."

There are many legitimate ways to knock President Obama -- his current unique selling point seems to be "I'm not Mitt Romney" springs to mind -- but implying that Obama is too immature to run the country is just plain stupid.

At the time, I thought Ann Romney's remark succeeded only in diminishing her credibility and making her seem petty. But, never one to let an opportunity to disappoint those who voted for his integrity in 2008, here comes President Obama, trying to shore up his street cred with young voters by filming a video ad for Internet coverage of the Democratic National Convention with Harold and Kumar, the White Castle-munching, skirt-chasing, Santa Claus-shooting, Guantanamo Bay-escaping, world famous pot-smoking movie characters.

Don't get me wrong, I love Harold and Kumar. Their movies can be amusing in a sort of present day, thank-goodness-it's-fiction, Three Stooges way. But "Harold and Kumar Get Silly with President Obama"? No one needs to see that. I don't care how deep in the pits the president's popularity is among young voters, Obama didn't need to stoop to this -- especially when it plays right into the image of him being a hypocrite who says one thing, then does the opposite.

This is the guy who, according to marijuana legalization activists, has shut down more legal medical marijuana providers in less than four years than former President George W. Bush did in eight years, and ramped up federal attacks on medical marijuana to include not just the Justice Department but also the Internal Revenue Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. He disregarded Latin America's debate on whether drug legalization can stem narco violence. It is beyond juvenile to participate in what amounts to a video endorsement from America's most famous stoners.

Even worse, the whole point behind the Obama administration's digital outreach strategy has been to engage youth in authentic interaction via virtual town hall meetings. But even though questions about marijuana decriminalization or legalization have been at the very top of every Web-based "listening" event Obama's ever participated in, he has been consistent in refusing to address the issue in any meaningful way.

"It's a pretty slick campaign piece to try to win back this demographic," Neill Franklin, a retired Baltimore narcotics cop and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization advocating for the legalization of certain drugs, told me. "There he is with Harold and Kumar, representatives of the 'typical' -- even though it's not true -- stoner sucking on soft drinks and eating pizza because they've got the munchies from smoking weed, but never really saying it.

"That's just not being honest, especially for someone who has been avoiding answering questions about a legitimate topic of debate that crosses so many age, race, cultural and economic groups. To the elderly, to people with diseases like cancer or glaucoma, and to other people who could get arrested and tagged with criminal records for doing the same thing the president himself did (in high school and college, by his own admission), this issue is not a laughing matter. I resent it."

Maybe Ann Romney was right: On his youth outreach, President Obama needs to grow up. Or -- in his own parlance -- evolve.

Email Esther J. Cepeda of The Washington Post Writers Group at estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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