Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sorry, Romney, Some Things You Just Don't Forget

Although Mitt Romney has long personified the punch line to the joke, "How can you tell when a politician is lying," it remains worth commenting on his latest seeming prevarication:
Mr. Romney returned from spring break in his senior year to find that John Lauber, a quiet, offbeat type, had bleached his hair blond.

Mr. Romney, brandishing a pair of scissors, led other boys on a hunt for Mr. Lauber, teasing him and holding him down while Mr. Romney snipped off his long locks.

“As to pranks that were played back then, I don’t remember them all, but again, high school days, if I did stupid things, why, I’m afraid I’ve got to say sorry for it,” Mr. Romney, 65, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said in a Fox News Radio interview on Thursday.
I don't think I'm atypical in this regard: If I were confronted with a story of this type I would be able to clearly and unequivocally say, "That's false. It never happened." I'm not claiming that I was perfect as a teenager, or that I was never mean to a kid who didn't deserve it, but there are certain lines that I - and I dare say, any normal person - would remember crossing. The only way you would forget this type of "stupid thing" or "prank" would be if you engaged in that type of bullying so often that your episodes of bullying became indistinct.

Further, you have to have a certain character or disposition to engage in that type of act - if you were somehow confused about whether or not it happened, you should at least know yourself well enough to know if it is something you were at all likely to do. Romney's inability to defend his own character reflects that, in his case, it was.

If the defenses of Romney are to be believed, that this would have been atypical behavior from him, it's difficult to regard his denial - or his defense that this would be a "prank" or "stupid thing" that fit among his many others as opposed to being a particularly memorable incident of tormenting another human being - as credible.

In terms of the alternate defense, that "Even at his otherwise-strict school, pranks were tolerated with boys-will-be-boys indulgence", there may be truth to that. The continuation of that defense, that the concept of bullying was alien to that era, is nonsense, but there's no question that a lot of boarding schools, including elite ones, used to have an overt and deliberate culture of brutality and bullying. An acquaintance who attended an overseas, British-style all-boys boarding school in the same era recounts that physical brutality and hazing was part of the culture of the school, and was viewed positively by the parents who wanted to make sure their sons were either tough or toughened up. But Romney's not offering a "times were different" defense.

One of the other students who participated in the event doesn't believe the denial:
Phillip Maxwell, a lawyer in Michigan, who participated in the episode, recalled it in an interview on Thursday. “It started out as ribbing, sort of a pointed ribbing about his hair, but it very quickly became an assault, and he was taken down to the ground, pinned,” Mr. Maxwell said. “It all happened very quickly — it was like a pack of dogs.”...

On Thursday, his aides struggled to deal with the account, first telling The Washington Post that Mr. Romney had no recollection of it. Mr. Maxwell, however, said he was skeptical that Mr. Romney did not remember something that had haunted all of the other men involved, even years later.

I would think this would be seared in his memory,” said Mr. Maxwell, who identified himself as an independent who tends to vote Democratic. “Certainly for the other people that were involved, nobody has forgotten.”
So as you would expect, this was not part of the culture of the school or typical of the "pranks" of the day, but was a particularly dramatic episode of bullying. The Washington Post was able to reach "several classmates [who] confirmed the account". The only person whose memory isn't working, it would appear, is Mitt Romney.

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