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Romney’s Road to the Bully Pulpit
We have short memories. That’s nothing new. But one thing we shouldn’t forget, even if the media have lost interest, is Mitt Romney’s bullying past.
You’ve no doubt heard the story—how Romney led an assault against a fellow student who had bleached his hair blond. That was back in ’65, when Romney was a senior at Cranbrook, an exclusive boys’ prep school in the Detroit suburbs. The victim of the attack, John Lauber, was an easy target, according to one of Romney’s classmates. The kid was quiet, socially awkward, and suspected of being gay—incentive enough for a gang of rich white guys who’d been well taught that tolerance is for sissies.
The story goes like this. Upon seeing Lauber’s golden bleached locks, Romney announced that the kid’s new look was just plain wrong. So Romney grabbed a pair of scissors and a handful of comrades and led them on a crusade in search of the reclusive blond. When they found Lauber, they tackled him and pinned him to the ground and held him there despite the boy’s tears and cries for help. Then Romney, with scissors in hand, set upon Lauber and chopped away at the offensive do.
Such stories of bullying are not rare—back then or now. But in 1965, incidents of this nature were not even considered bullying. They were, in fact, encouraged by a boys-will-be-boys attitude and a silent nod from those who would preserve the status quo.
But Romney claims he doesn’t recall the incident, which is interesting because several of the other students who participated in the bullying now express regrets for their actions and openly accept that what they did was a senseless and horrific act. For them, remembering isn’t the issue. If anything, it’s trying to forget.
Lauber never forgot. Thirty years after the attack, he confessed to a classmate how horrible the incident had been and how terrified it had made him feel. He admitted too that he still thought often about what had happened to him that day. Perhaps he’d be remembering still if he hadn’t died of cancer in 2004.
The only one who seems to have forgotten the incident is the ringleader himself. The best Romney could muster in response to the accusations was a weak, generalized apology to anyone he might have hurt back then, and this he accompanied with an even weaker, even more generalized admittance that he “participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school.” And when it came to Lauber’s perceived sexual orientation, Romney denied having even considered such a thing back in the ’60s and said he had no idea what “the individual’s” sexual orientation might have been.
Perhaps Romney is telling the truth. After all, the bullying occurred nearly 50 years ago, and he has a lot on his mind these days, what with the upcoming election and all. But that makes me wonder whether Romney’s convenient lack of recall is because he participated in so many “hijinks and pranks” that remembering one over the other is nearly impossible. Maybe bullying was such a commonplace event for him that he simply cannot remember one victim from the next. Or maybe he considers people like “the individual” of such little consequence that they deserve no measure of empathy or compassion or consideration, let alone a place in the hallowed halls of Romney’s brain.
Clearly, if Romney is telling the truth, he thinks so little about his past actions that guilt or remorse or self-doubt or self-recrimination has no room in the big presidential picture. Romney has made a clean break from those years gone by, and he sees little sense in returning to them now.
It is possible, of course, that Romney is lying. Not only does he remember, but he might also be troubled by his behavior. Perhaps he has considered many times since then the malicious nature of his actions. Perhaps he understands the grief he inflicted upon his classmate and wishes there were some way to undo what he had done, to take back the anguish and hurt and years of painful memories.
Of course, it could be that Romney remembers and simply doesn’t give a shit. He grew up the son of a wealthy governor. He grew up in an environment of affluence and privilege. He grew up with a sense of entitlement and an expectation of a world revolving around Mitt Romney.
Yet what happened nearly 50 years is almost besides the point. Sure, the fact that he bullied Lauber the way he did is pretty creepy, but others have done worse and have learned from their actions and have gone on to achieve great things as a result. Yet the fact that Romney either refuses to acknowledge the truth or has indeed forgotten it shows us more about his character than a 50-year-old misstep.
If such a person cannot or will not acknowledge such an egregious mark on his past, what sort of leader does that make him? How can he understand the plight of others when he has so little regard for those others? All he’s proven so far is that he’s capable of behaving like an ambitious politician. The bigger question is whether he’s capable of behaving like a responsible human being.
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