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I think the answer to Jonathan’s original question–whether or not the actions of youth should disqualify someone from office–is not really black or white. I think, probably, if somebody murders someone else in the first degree when they are 16 years old, that should disqualify them from being President, ever.
On the other hand, if someone, say, makes a really sick and inappropriate joke about killing people of the opposite party when they are 16 or 17, that probably shouldn’t disqualify them from ever holding office. The question then becomes–where on this spectrum does Mitt Romney’s actions fall?
Judging by the responses to this question by some of the folks in this debate, this story resonates more with people my age and younger to a much greater degree than those who are older than me. I think this is probably because attitudes about bullying of homosexuals are changing in a big way, and because my generation is grappling with a horrible plague of teenage homosexual suicides. I am by no means a swing voter–I even went so far as to say Barack Obama will be remembered by history as the greatest President of my lifetime–but during the GOP nomination fight, my attitude was “Lord help us if anyone beside Mitt Romney or John Huntsman comes out of this thing.” That is to say, I don’t dislike Mitt Romney, and actually think he wouldn’t be a bad President. However, this turn of events honestly makes me question that.
I strongly disagree with Jonathan when he said
that clearly, the smartest move politically for Mitt Romney in this situation was to lie. His actions, 50 years ago though they were, presented a huge opportunity for inroads with the American public. I think if Mitt Romney had decided to offer an honest and heartfelt apology along the lines of Tony Campolo from the video earlier
, it would have been a huge positive–not just for the Mitt Romney for President campaign, but for the campaign against anti-gay bigotry writ large. Instead, he chose to lie.
I also strongly disagree with Jonathan and others when they say this sort of behavior does not mesh with the popular opinion of Mitt Romney. The prevailing opinion of Mitt Romney through the eyes of his opponents is that he is an elitist, aloof, out-of-touch jerk who doesn’t understand anything about anyone who isn’t like himself. As evidence, his opponents point to the $10,000 bet he placed with Gov. Rick Perry, his joking about friends who own NASCAR teams, his quip about his wife “driving a few Cadillacs”, and his car elevator. The narrative up until now has been somewhat convincing, and this story really drives that point home.
Most of the actions of youth can be forgiven; but Mitt Romney’s choices both while he was young and dealing with his youthful indiscretions drive home a narrative about Mitt Romney that give me great pause about his character as a person and about what kind of President he would be.
For me, at least, the aftermath of this story changes the whole narrative of this campaign for me. Before, I really wanted Barack Obama to be given a second term, but I wouldn’t have been overly upset with President Romney. Now, however, I really don’t want this guy to be the President.