05/18/2012 04:19 pm ET Updated May 21, 2012

Table Talk: When A Presidential Candidate Is Accused Of Bullying

This week's Family Dinner Table Talk, from HuffPost and The Family Dinner book:

In today's world, people who run for office should assume that their most unfortunate decisions -- from high school or later life -- will eventually come to light.

Mitt Romney was forced to address accusations about his past just last week, when five of his high school classmates told The Washington Post they remembered seeing the candidate tease and bully other students during their prep school years.

One of the Post's sources says he helped an 18-year-old Romney perform the “senseless, stupid, idiotic" act of restraining a student in order to cut his hair, despite tears and protests. Years later, the victim came out as gay.

In the age of “Bully,” these are extremely serious claims, and many -- like columnist Charles M. Blow -- think Romney's subsequent apology left a lot to be desired. In a Fox News Channel interview, the presidential candidate said he wasn’t “too concerned” about the Washington Post report; he opted to issue a blanket apology rather than take full responsibility for the actions described in the piece. “Back in high school, I did some dumb things, and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that,” he said. (He claimed not to remember cutting his schoolmate's hair.)

"If Romney was a high school student who did this today and got caught, he’d be punished, and for good reason," Emily Bazelon wrote in Slate; in the New Yorker, Amy Davidson added: "In terms of what a gay teen-ager might encounter, and what other boys might go along with at a school like [Romney's], 1965 was different [from 2012]; but memory and empathy are not qualities that have only been invented since then."

On The New York Times’s Motherlode blog, KJ Dell’Antonia points out that this is a “teachable moment” for families of all political stripes. Whatever you think of the accusations and Romney's response, she writes, it’s important for everyone to be aware that he or she may be held accountable for childhood actions in later life. It's a lesson most people -- presidential candidates or not -- would rather not learn the hard way.

Questions for discussion:
  • Should we blame adults for things they did as kids?
  • Should we hold politicians and “regular people” to different standards?
  • Is 18 old enough to know better?
  • Do you see bullying going on at your school?
  • How important was Romney’s response when the story broke? Did you think it was appropriate?

In her new cookbook, The Family Dinner, Laurie David talks about the importance of families making a ritual of sitting down to dinner together, and how family dinners offer a great opportunity for meaningful discussions about the day's news. "Dinner," she says, "is as much about digestible conversation as it is about delicious food."

We couldn't agree more. So HuffPost has joined with Laurie and every Friday afternoon, just in time for dinner, our editors highlight one of the most compelling news stories of the week -- stories that will spark a lively discussion among the whole family.