Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mitt Romney's School Days: Luckily, He's Lying about Them

The recent revelation that the adolescent Mitt Romney was a self-entitled bully exhibiting behavior one classmate likened to something out of Lord of the Flies is, like so many other tidbits about Mr. Romney, both irrelevant and absolutely on point.

While we can all, I suspect, muster a little retroactive compassion for the victims of schoolyard bullies from the distant past, it really doesn’t tell us much about candidate Romney that he was a douchebag half a century ago. How he and his campaign have handled the publication of his teen-aged “pranks,” however, tells us a lot about the man who would be POTUS.

Let’s start with the simple fact that the events described in the Washington Post piece happened. They aren’t just alleged; they happened. How do we know? Well, apart from the four guys (one of them a former Republican county chairman) who are willing to go on the record and affirm the charges (and who, unlike the Swiftboaters of eight years ago, were actually there), there’s the clumsiest non-denial in recent memory: “The stories of fifty years ago seem exaggerated and off base and Governor Romney has no memory of participating in these incidents.”

Let’s do a little parsing of that sentence, shall we? The campaign doesn’t even try to argue that the “stories” are false; they’re “exaggerated.” Translation: this stuff happened. But the allegations aren’t even necessarily exaggerated; they “seem” that way. Translation: this shit sounds pretty creepy to us, too. “Governor Romney has no memory of participating…” Wow. That may be the weaseliest non-denial denial of the year. I’m here to tell you, I can remember a lot of mistakes I made as an adolescent—“incidents” (to coin a phrase) that I regret, but which, in large part because of the remorse I felt in the immediate aftermath, made me a more ethical adult. And I remember them.

I am, in other words, here to tell you that I did not tackle a classmate, restrain him, and cut off his hair because he was a little effeminate. There’s no “no memory” about this. I never did that: not the act, not the motive. Romney is lying about not remembering, but he doesn’t even have the balls to deny the actual charges… because then he’d have to call his former high school buddies liars: and we already know who has more credibility on this issue. (Hint: none of them are named Willard.) The “I can’t recall” ruse is, frankly, worse than lying about the event itself, because it adds cowardice to the already-established dishonesty.

Later, we got another story. In a free commercial hastily-arranged interview with lackey Brian Kilmeade, Romney was all chortles. Here’s Salon’s Joan Walsh on Romney’s evasion of a question about the assault on John Lauber:
“I don’t remember that incident,” Romney said, laughing. (Laughing?) “I certainly don’t believe that I thought the fellow was homosexual. That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s, so that was not the case.” So he obviously remembers something – but he didn’t know the guy was gay! About taunting Gary Hummel with “Atta girl,” Romney offers a similar qualified denial: “I really can’t remember that. As this person indicated, he was closeted. I had no idea that he was gay and can’t speak to that even today.” So I didn’t do it, and anyway, the guy was closeted.
Oh, well, that’s alright, then. See, I was afraid you were covering up your own latent homosexual urges by abusing gay guys. But, of course, they were closeted (as they’d have to be with assholes like you around), so you didn’t know they were gay (chuckle) because that was the furthest thing from your mind (chuckle). In other words, Governor, your criminality wasn’t because you were a bigot, but rather because you were a pedestrian bully and garden-variety sociopath. I’m glad you explained; I feel so much better now.

There’s a telling link from the Post story. In the sentence “Romney’s presidential campaign has turned to the candidate’s youthful antics as evidence of his capacity for harmless, humanizing pranks and as an indication of his looser, less wooden self,” there’s a link to another article, published last month. Here’s one of the “harmless, humanizing pranks” of college-aged Romney: “At Stanford, he lured rival University of California students into a trap in which his buddies “shaved their heads and painted them red,” according to a 1970 speech at Brigham Young University by his father, George Romney.

“Yuck yuck yuck. My kid committed multiple counts of assault on people just because they didn’t go to the same school as he did. HA!” Uh, George, that little anecdote didn’t help your boy overcome the widely-held perception that he’s disingenuous in all things, that he believes his wealth entitles him to commit literally criminal acts without repercussions, and that beneath the plastic smirk and the $1200 suits, the core characteristic is viciousness. And, by the way, what’s with Mitt’s hair-cutting fetish? Might he have an alter ego as M. Jacques of Cheveux Sont Nous?

It would be an exaggeration (a term I employ advisedly) to suggest that I don’t care at all what Mitt Romney did in the 1960’s. But it isn’t relevant to whether he’s a good candidate today. Except that, sort of, it is. 2012 Romney’s blithe dismissal of 1960s Romney’s “pranks” is troubling because he’s so obviously lying about it. But it could be worse: he could actually not remember these random acts of brutality, not understand their immorality, or not regard anyone even the slightest bit different from himself to be worthy of compassion. I like the mendacious jackass better than the amoral psychopath. Luckily, Governor Romney has fabricated about everything else he’s said in this entire campaign. We can take comfort in the virtual certainty that he’s simply a pathological liar and not something far worse.


Jack Marshall said...

Boy, do I disagree with this.

1) It is very possible that Romney doesn't remember the incident. I have a terrific, almost creepy memory of events going back to grade school, but I am still surprised when some former classmate tells me that they will "never forget" some incident or statement I made that I don't recall at all. You simply cannot assume Romney remembers the incident, if he didn't think it was such a big deal at the time.
2) His comment about homosexuality not being on his mind rings 100% true. I can think back on kids in school who were ridiculed for being odd or weak or "girly", or were even called "homos", but most kids, like me, didn't even know what being gay was--I can honestly say a never suspected any one I knew of being gay until I was in college, and only then when it was pointed out to me by my father. Gays were closeted in the 60's. It just wasn't on the radar.
3)Note that the Post is now backing down from the certainty of its assertions. The guy who said, in the original story, that he was "long troubled" by the incident was in fact just informed of it by the Post, which makes his comments probative of nothing. The alleged victim's older sister said she never heard about it. I think your 100% certainty that the event occurred as reported is vastly unfair.
4)Since the story was obviously timed to contrast with Obama's late and pusillanimous endorsement of gay marriage, arguing that the fact that Romney was "just" bullying and not homophobic is irrelevant makes no sense. I doubt it would have been reported at all if the victim wasn't perceived as gay.
5) A agree with your contempt for 50's/60's era "pranks", hazing and student abuse, but you write as if your and my attitudes were the norm in in 1964. They weren't, and it is unfair to judge Teen Romney by today's standards.
6) As I wrote in response to your comment on Ethics Alarms, Romney shouldn't have to respond to unfair crap like this, and there is literally no response that won't be shot down by someone as proof of callousness, dishonesty, guilt, or something else. Go ahead--tell us what the right way is to respond to a poorly sourced characterization of an embarrassing incident you dimly remember that you know is being spun into proof of bigotry when you aren't even the same person you were when it happened.

manjushri924 said...

I remain convinced that the incident happened--even if one of the alleged witnesses has subsequently recanted or was misquoted or whatever--and that Romney knows exactly what the furor is about.

I freely grant the probability that homosexuality in a literal sense wasn't on Romney's mind at the time. That's the problem, in some ways. The victim, therefore, wasn't someone who was, according to some religio-moral code, a sinner: no, he was simply different. That's worse.

I also agree that teen Romney shouldn't be judged by the standards we'd apply to him today: both because he was an adolescent instead of an adult, and because it was 50 years ago and attitudes have evolved. (Sorry, didn't mean to use a catch-word.)

It is also true that the article was unfair: a combination of innuendo and gotcha journalism, timed specifically to contrast Romney's youthful mistakes with Obama's endorsement of gay marriage. Your condemnation of the article per se is completely appropriate, if (to my mind) a little over-stated.

But the response remains relevant. What is the right way to respond? Well, it's impossible to create a response that won't be criticized on the grounds you state. A response that can't rightfully be criticized, however, is entirely possible:

"I don't recall the incident, but it could have happened. If so, I regret my participation in it. My behavior was influenced by the spirit of the times and by my youth. I have matured considerably in the last 50 years. In the same way that President Obama should not be condemned for allegedly eating dog meat as a child in Indonesia, neither should I be condemned for being a teenager when I was a teenager. I would ask that this campaign be concentrated on the policy differences between us, not on what either of us may or may not have done before we reached adulthood."