I agree with my namesake, Jonathan, and spoke from that way from my pulpit in Alabama. In my experience, people change, and some people change radically and become their better selves. This was a shameful incident. But we do not elect 17 year olds to the office of President, thank God.
Further, I felt badly that Romney had to play dumb, that he couldn’t fess up or tell the world who he changed because of the gotcha political environment. The muted reaction to this event from the candidate and his minions was a result of trying to finesse the news cycles.
Says Linda Curry, Harrods Creek, KY:
I think he should definitely be held accountable. Romney was eighteen (18) years old. Legally he was an adult. Yes, it matters what he did fifty (50) years ago. He wants us to elect him President of the United States. From what I am hearing of his comments he will certainly “bully” the poor and helpless in favor of the ultra rich. He even tried to laugh the matter off as not remembering it. If he were honest with the American people he would not try to act like it didn’t happen.
Read the rest of… The RPs Debate Romney Bullying: The RP Nation Weighs In
We interrupt this fascinating and revealing debate with the uber-emotional rantings by this site’s founder.
This debate has torn the scab off two pet peeves that have been the target of some of my most agonized rhetorical fury during my post-political recovery.
First, with due respect to my friend, the Frozen Chosen Mr. Berkowitz — as well as dozens of columnists who’ve weighed in similarly over the past week — I am not persuaded at all that Romney’s reaction to the disclosure of events is troubling. In saying he didn’t remember the incident, I assume he lied. Any good lawyer or political consultant would have advised him to do the same. There was no advantage in him extending the debate by confirming or disputing the story, and no one can prove that he remembered it or not.
I do not think Romney should be blamed for lying about an event that does not deserve punishment today, just as I don’t think Bill Clinton should have been impeached for lying about personal indiscretions, nor that my friend Jeff Smith should have been incarcerated for a year for falling into a perjury trap about a minor campaign finance violation. People lie because they are embarrassed, or because they don’t want to get bad publicity, but if what they lie about is not actionable in itself, I have trouble claiming that the lie is a major offense.
Second, I dispute the notion shared by many of the previous contributors — as well, again, as by many pols and pundits this week — that we can draw some psychological conclusions about Romney’s performance as President based on something he did as a teenager. Of course, if a qualified therapist had Romney on the couch for a year’s worth of weekly sessions, and Romney shared his life story, the therapist could develop some meaningful conclusions about how Romney’s childhood shaped him in the decades that followed. But as any good therapist would tell you, they could not draw the same conclusions simply through reading a series of unrelated press accounts of his six decade life. Indeed, they would tell you: “This is not my patient; it would be irresponsible for me to draw such conclusions.”
This is simply another excuse the press uses to pick apart the dirty laundry in a politician’s private life. This psychobabble does no service to the debate except selling papers and encouraging clicks from readers who love to revel in the misery of the famous, and/or who have been brainwashed by the movies and the media to expect full and consistent narratives about famous people.
And by the way — this particular story matches no narrative of Mitt Romney, the candidate or human being, that I have ever read to date. The dominant narrative — one I have been inclined (brainwashed?) to accept as true — is that he is a politician who would do anything to get elected. In 1994, he was pro-gay in order to run against Ted Kennedy, and stayed pro-gay through his election as Governor of Massachusetts. By 2012 he became anti-gay to appeal to the right wing of his party. My guess he really doesn’t care much about the issue; his sole focus is on getting elected President.
(And even that narrative is unfair. I am sure Romney cares about something — there are some ideas that he would never abandon for political expediency. There simply are no perfectly consistent narratives for us flawed human beings.)
The fact that the 18 year old Romney was an asshole bully sheds no light on anything except the fact that when he was 18, he was an asshole bully. If I were his principal at the time, I would have expelled him and turned over the evidence to authorities to prosecute him for assault.
(Of course, at that time — as well as in my own childhood — incidents like these were quite common and rarely punished severely: “Boys will be boys!” Replace “gay” with “Jew,” and I suffered a similar humiliation on a handful of occasions. Thank God today, society is moving in the direction of treating bullying as the crime that it is.)
However, as I concluded in my introductory post, his stupid, mean, hurtful behavior as a teenager does not disqualify Mitt Romney to be President.
That Mitt Romney bullied a young gay man as a teenager should not, in and of itself, be disqualifying; it happened fifty years ago.
What should be disqualifying is the fact that Romney chased his national security spokesman Richard Grenell out of campaign HQ with a proverbial scissors two weeks ago, when his campaign folded to the pressure of anti-gay social conservatives and told Grenell – a respected foreign policy expert – that Grenell would not be allowed to speak on the record.
And what should be disqualifying is that Romney accepted Grenell’s resignation willingly – “whew, that mini-crisis is over” – instead of having the character to say, “No. I hired you to be our national security spokesman because of your credentials and that hasn’t changed just because a few bigots have a problem with your sexual orientation.”
That lack of character – signs of which some may detect in his role as a Cranbrook ringleader – is why Republicans, independents, and Democrats agree that Romney is one of the least likeable presidential candidates since Nixon.
I’ve been invited to comment and am hesitant because I try to ignore the digging into candidates early lives as evidence of current temperament and clues about leadership style. But I have heard a little about this incident and will try to offer some constructive commentary.
From what I can gather there were several incidents involving a young Mitt Romney, the now-Republican nominee for president, and some pranks that could be interpreted as “insensitive” if not “cruel” to young homosexual males in his class at prep school.
I believe the story goes that Mitt was traveling by car from Massachusetts to Canada and tied a classmate to the roof of the car for the entire 12 hour drive. Presumably it has now leaked out that the reason the boy was tied to the roof of the car wasn’t just because he was a democrat. But because he was gay too.
I find this sort of teen boy prankster mentality offensive and embarrassing but probably not indicative of some deep seated character flaw that Romney possesses. For example, there are other stories—I believe—about Romney routinely traveling with his pet dog attached to the roof of the car. It had nothing to do with the dog’s sexual orientation. Romney simply felt he would sully the interior of the car. I suspect Romney felt the same way about the gay democratic boy.
So, what we see upon closer examination is that Romney wasn’t guilty so much of homophobia but rather a foolish teen prank that was perhaps a harbinger of Mitt’s well documented metrosexual and neatnik inclinations.
Besides, common sense suggests that there really could not have been an anti-gay motive behind young Mitt’s antics. First off the name of the prep school was Cranbrook. That’s a pretty gay name for a high school, if you ask me. And it was an all boy prep school. So clearly, any boy who attended Cranbrook was already either himself homosexual or at least completely comfortable being suspected of being a homosexual. It just doesn’t add up.
Was Mitt an anti-gay bully? Are you kidding? Have you seen this guy? Was he a meticulous metrosexual prankster who feared gay democratic germs being left in his car while he drove to Canada? Probably—and nothing more. And by the way, what was he driving to Canada for anyway? That causes a whole set of other much more serious concerns about Mitt’s fitness for our highest office.
The failure to recollect the incident is astounding. His camp must be glad not to have to deal with a birth certificate question. And an apology as conditional as the one that was offered lacks the requisite sincerity. Short version is that the dubious response to a long ago boyhood incident is revealing about the man who would be president today.
It doesn’t take a decades old bullying incident to illuminate Mitt Romney’s views towards gays. His current public policy positions say enough. Mitt Romney believes that gay people are second class citizens.
Mitt Romney believes the humanity of gay citizens is not equal to the humanity of straight citizens. Otherwise, Mitt Romney wouldn’t advocate for denying the basic right for gay people who love one another to marry one another.
Mitt hails from a party that often claims government encroaches on religious liberty. But Mitt’s vision of government encroaches on my religious liberty. I am Jewish, and Reform (and Conservative) Judaism recognizes the rights of gay folks to get married. But under Mitt’s governing philosophy, the government would supersede the right of my faith community to recognize and sanction gay marriage.
Small government and individual liberty aren’t universal principles within the modern Republican Party. They only apply to those who were born the “right” way.
While it’s true that Science reassures us that the human brain (and some decision making) isn’t mature until age 25, we’re not talking about the average citizen here. We’re discussing the past hate crime behavior of a person running for president of the United Sates of America.
The character of such a person can not, should not, be questionable. Character is developed over time, and, we’re discussing a hate crime.
For me, this is not about a lack of understanding/forgiveness for mistakes (Goodness knows I believe wholly and holy, that mistake making is essential for the growth of the human soul), but this is about choosing from a pool of leaders who have demonstrated, over a lifetime, qualities of honor and strong internal moral compass. We are not running low on a supply of those.
Should he be forgiven? If he is truly repentant from the heart and soul, yes! Should we consider instead OTHER candidates who don’t have hate crime backgrounds (for current and future races), yes! Should our standards and expectations come from a realm of excellence, yes!
One who runs and takes on office at this level should feel that personal honor is everything. And we should expect this. Who we are personally is who we are publicly, and vise versa.
Looking at the big picture here is key. Is this someone who demonstrates a genuine embracing of diversity?
We can elect leaders for whom this isn’t questionable. Our standards will set the standard.
I am in the camp that faults almost everything about this story: its timing–posting it the day after President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage was a thinly veiled effort to link Romney’s opposition to a pattern of bigotry; its placement as a stand-alone piece when the details merited at best inclusion in a longer profile; its strained attempt at making nearly 50 year old events relevant; and its effort to exaggerate the perennial cruelties of adolescence into the systematic brand of bullying that we have become sensitized to today.
That a major newspaper got so many things so wrong is hard to justify as anything other than an agenda. Somewhere along the way, a major section of the press has absorbed the idea that Romney is a hollow kind of character without empathy or conviction, who has sold his soul to a hard-right clique in his party,and whose election would reverse the dawn of a new multi-cultural, tolerant America.
Having convinced itself that Romney is so flawed, much of that press has fed virtually every inspection of his record and past through such an unforgiving filter. The effect is that too much of the coverage of Romney looks exactly like the chain-letter attacks the DNC spits out every day.
Its one thing for a blogger or a columnist to develop a character thesis and dig away at it. Its another thing for an established press organ with a neutral face to go that route.
My first impulse when I heard this story was, I admit, “Wow, what a spectacular piece off oppo research. Now Mitt Romney can be pigeonholed by people who were never going to vote for him anyway as both a gay-basher and the guy who strapped his dog to the roof of his car.”
[Recent self-serving protestations by the WaPo ombudsman aside, no one can deny that there were reasons why playing up particular aspects of this story made sense in the midst of our current debate.]
My second impulse, which I shared in a personal message to the RP, was “Having known some rich privileged [jerks] in high school I am not surprised to hear that rich, privileged Mitt Romney was a [jerk] in high school.”
Neither of those impulses, however, completely expresses my mature thoughts on the matter. Which gets back to the RP’s original point (and Steve’s) that there is a big difference between the impulsive acts of idiot teenagers and the (hopefully) mature positions of thoughtful adults.
Upon mature reflection, the story of Mitt Romney’s actions makes me feel a combination of anger, disgust, and sadness.
I attended an elite boys’ high school myself, though it was not a boarding school like Cranbrook, and I graduated high school exactly twenty years after Willard did. Things had changed somewhat in the intervening decades, and have changed even more since then. So the experiences are not identical, but they do rhyme: I saw and experienced the kind of casual sneering cruelty that adolescent boys can mete out to each other in a culture of macho preening and rigid social hierarchy. A few times I was on the direct receiving end of it, though most of the time I was a bystander.
Thankfully I never witnessed or experienced the kind of physical attack described in the recent newspaper accounts. Nevertheless, certain memories still bother me 25+ years later, and it is also true that I can never look at some of my former classmates (especially those now more active in public life) without at least some bitterness. If any of them were to be on a ballot, I would have a hard time voting for them. So I can understand that some of Romney’s classmates continue to have ambivalent feelings about him so many years after Cranbrook.
Does that mean that one’s behavior in high school reveals permanent and enduring elements of one’s character and should completely shape our view of the adult? God, I hope not. If we can credit other people with “evolving,” then we should all be able to accept that people can overcome the callow idiocy of youth and become more well-rounded and empathetic human beings.
But because we accept that people can learn from their youth and grow beyond it, we should expect, even demand, that when a public figure is confronted with questionable deeds and words from his/her past, that public figure will own the past and explain how it fits into the present. Complaining about the story’s publication is pointless at best, and pretending that the past does not matter is even worse. If Mitt Romney wants to run for president, and to make use of his personal history in his campaign, then he has to accept that the darker shades of his personal history will be discussed as well. The challenge for him, and for those who would defend him, is not to get lost in semi-denials and hemi-demi-apologies, but to own his past actions and explain how if at all they contribute to making him the man he is today.
Just as the history of nations includes both light and dark chapters, both of which need to be analyzed and understood honestly and completely, an honest assessment of a personal history should not try to evade unpleasant topics. It is Romney’s responsibility to address the past, and the responsibility of the rest of us to listen to his story and decide how to evaluate both the boy he was and the man he is. Forgetting is never the proper approach. Honest, even painful, remembrance of the past is the only way to build a better future.