As some of you heard, last week the Washington Post reported a story about presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and his participation in an incident that many are calling "bullying." Taking place in 1965 while a student at Cranbrook School, Romney, along with a group of friends, held down fellow classmate, John Lauber, and cut off his hair with a pair of scissors.
"He can't look like that. That's wrong. Just look at him!" an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann's recollection. Mitt, the teenage son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber's look, Friedemann recalled.
A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school's collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber's hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
The incident was recalled similarly by five students, who gave their accounts independently of one another. Four of them -- Friedemann, now a dentist; Phillip Maxwell, a lawyer; Thomas Buford, a retired prosecutor; and David Seed, a retired principal -- spoke on the record. Another former student who witnessed the incident asked not to be identified. The men have differing political affiliations, although they mostly lean Democratic. Buford volunteered for Barack Obama's campaign in 2008. Seed, a registered independent, has served as a Republican county chairman in Michigan. All of them said that politics in no way colored their recollections.
As one can imagine the punditry from all sides has been cray-cray. Quick to get this one under control, I'm sure, Romney responded to the story during a live radio interview with Fox News personality Brian Kilmeade:
Back in high school, I did some dumb things, and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that. I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school, and some might have gone too far, and for that I apologize.
First of all, for those who think that going after his high school behavior isn't fair game, I beg to differ. I think that if one is running for President of the United States, everything is fair game. Yes, 45 years ago is a long time, but couple this incident with the whole dog on the roof of the car one, and I am developing an image of person who sees other lives in a very different way than I do, one where the pain and suffering of another living creature has no impact.
One issue that I have with the whole mess is that Romney has yet to actually admit to being part of the incident, instead answering with a vague "some [pranks] may have gone too far" category that only leaves me to wonder if there were so many so-called "pranks" that he cannot keep them all straight. While there is no way the Republican party will get my vote in this year's election, I think it would have gone a long way for him in gaining the support of some independents and libertarians to own up to being part of the incident; after all, few are denying that he was part of it.
Which leads me to my second concern. For many, there seems to be a "boys will be boys" or "we all did stupid stuff when we were kids" attitude to excuse Romney's actions. Now, I admit, as the father of three girls, I am no expert on raising boys. At the same time, I was a boy once myself and I have seen many gender behaviors played out on the playground and at school. We could argue the reasons why some boys and girls fulfill traditional male or female expectations, but I would still say that even this reality, combined with the poor choices of youth, in no way excuses the terror that must have been inflicted on his classmate. I just do not think this is the norm for anyone, boy or girl.
Yes, I was a boy. I did stupid, youthful "boys-will-be-boys" things -- drinking, smoking and blowing up dog poop with firecrackers, just to name a few* -- but never did I lead a group of boys to hold another boy down against his will and cut off his hair. To see what must have only been terror in the eyes of another human and continue the act is inexcusable and without ever claiming responsibility or repentance, gives us a window into his personhood and soul.
So what do you think? Is it fair to raise these issues from his past? And if it is true, does it matter? Or is this a liberal hack job from the WP and the Obama campaign? Here is a good clip from ABC News:
I have been pretty clear with where I stand on the whole thing, what say you?
* I am obviously never running for president ;-)
If you would like to comment, I am more apt to reciprocate over on the originating post on Patheos.com.