(Photo Illustration by Linsey Fields)
By Luke Zaleski, GQ
This story originally appeared on GQ.com: Gen-Xer Paul Ryan Probably Hasn't Smoked Pot, and That's a Problem
Paul Ryan, "the first Gen-X candidate," was 19 when the Berlin Wall came down, draft age during the first Gulf War, 21 when Nevermind dropped. All of which makes him a contemporary of many of us who work on and read GQ. Which got us wondering, what kind of a dude is Paul Ryan? Would we want to go to Coachella with this fella? More precisely: has he ever been stoned to the bejeezus belt?
The question of whether or not Ryan has ever smoked pot is not entirely out of left-field. Well over half of Americans between ages 18 and 50 say they've smoked before, and American presidential candidates as far back as Dukakis have had to wrestle with how to handle inquiries about past drug use. We know that Bush the Latter was "young and irresponsible" when he was young and irresponsible. Bill Clinton apparently "didn't inhale" anything but Big Macs and g-strings. Barack Obama, back when he was Barry, was a pot-mooching babe-hound who never met a doobie he didn't bro up to. And despite that rep, Obama won the last presidential election.
So we asked (and asked) the Romney-Ryan campaign for an answer to this famous, legitimate, and increasingly innocuous question. And we received a lot of bouncing around, and finally no answer at all. Apparently, they've decided they have nothing to gain from taking a position on this.
No matter. We can make an educated guess.
A quick scan of the Ryan bio reveals a somewhat dork-ish striver, a guy named homecoming king his junior year of high school, pegged in the yearbook as the class brown-noser, who later went to work for a congressman and moonlight at a margarita bar. And then there's his intense exercising, checked shirts and theatrically furrowed brow. All of which paint a picture of a guy who more than likely spent his best stoning years worried that if he toked up it might come back to haunt him when he ran for office later in his life. Call it the first Ryan Plan.
In other words, all signs indicate Ryan has never tried pot.* And time was that fact would've helped his campaign. Ironically, though, nowadays the "I smoked pot in college" scandal cuts both ways: in 2012 any 42-year-old who's never sparked a joint with his friends and listened to Legend, or Europe '72, or OK Computer is considered out of touch. Frankly, never having smoked pot means you've missed the past twenty years of American pop culture completely, and you don't totally get the forty years before that. It means you don't know who Richard Linklater is, or why everyone likes him so much. I look at this guy who I could have gone to high school with, and basically he's living in the Fifties.
Being a pot virgin is a lot like being an actual virgin; it feels disconnected somehow. This is a communal rite for young Americans, something passed to others and shared, a way we practiced kindness. It matters, on some deep, silly level. And I just can't trust anyone my age who's never smoked pot. (I kinda don't trust anyone my age with whom I have never personally smoked pot, but that's more my issue than Ryan's.) Do you?
Elections, don't forget, are popularity contests. And when you're running for office as a Gen-X candidate, not having smoked is gonna make it hard for you to seem like anything but a guy who stood apart from his generation. Powered by pot and the natural progressivism of youth, Gen-X invented the modern sports of skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding, among other things. Heard of Google? REM? Tarantino? Jay Z? That was us, too. Gen-X has been about moving forward from the Baby Boomers' Sixties, building on them, not wishing them away.
In the end, I don't think Gen-Xers will be down with the Ticket That's Never Toked. As the great philosopher, Dave Wooderson, might've said,"It'd be a lot cooler if they did."
* Of course, there's the remote possibility that somewhere between the brown-noser award, the margarita slinging job, the personal trainer stint, and the days he spent roaming the halls of Congress, he dabbled in some sticky, kind bud (it would explain the funky math in his budget). And if that is the case, we welcome the Romney-Ryan camp to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and correct the record. We will happily pass along word that Congressman Ryan once got his high on. Or call me directly, Paul. I'll help you out.
This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America, and Money in Politics.
HuffPost Live will be taking a comprehensive look at America's failed war on drugs August 28th and September 4th from 12-4 pm ET and 6-10 pm ET. Click here to check it out -- and join the conversation.
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