Having gotten lost in this thread long ago, I will re-enter only to make a few observations:
-If one’s perspective is that Mitt Romney’s opposition to gay marriage and his parting of ways with a staffer whose public position was at odds with his own both amount to homophobia or bigotry, there is not much room for civil debate. I would beg to differ, and would only urge that a topic on which the country seems almost evenly split deserves a less absolutist frame.
-On the larger question of relevance, I side with the Miller/Steele way of looking at this episode: too long ago, too hard to separate from the context of juvenile foolishness, too hard to invoke against Romney without setting a standard that would scorch too many others. I also found intriguing one line of comments to the effect that the whole business of background mining to determine character would have wreaked havoc with a lot of good presidencies. It’s not that character has nothing to tell us about the potential misuses of power, but that it requires much more depth of knowledge and much more texture than today’s weakly sourced media snapshots can generally provide. And surely there is some statute of limitations.
-As to the other nagging charge, that Romney’s handling of this episode is revealing of some lack of empathy, I plead confusion. Should he have really waxed eloquent about a thing that he likely barely remembers, and that he reasonably contends has not much to do with his current values? Should Barack Obama have shown more anguish in describing the costs of teenaged drug use, or George Bush more passion in describing the wages of alcoholism? I’ll side with whoever said that the passions of these candidates on where they plan to take the country are worth more than their passions about their life lessons.
-Final point: I’ll confess disappointment that no one has bothered to address the timing of the Washington Post story, especially on a blog where more than a few of us have been at the mercy of press selectiveness in our past political lives. Timing is a huge power in journalism and the choice to run this story the day it ran is hard to qualify as anything other than a hit job. It was a pretty-clear cut instance of a news organization trying hard to link a 48 year old account to a current position on an issue. That is advocacy, not balls and strikes journalism; fine for a Huffington Post blogger, not fine for the second political paper of record in the country.