Last week, the Washington Post reported an incident in which GOP Candidate Mitt Romney engaged in a scene out of teenage nightmares.
Some might call that statement a bit strong.
I disagree. The report from the Post was corroborated by five of Romney's classmates, including at least one who actually helped. The details of that incident are available freely around the net and I encourage you to Google them. But let's talk about why those details are still important, rather than what they are.
First, there is the denial from Romney that he remembers the incident. Admittedly, I would find this only mildly troubling if it were not for the fact that his time at Cranbook has been pointed to as the genesis of his leadership skills. Romney learned not only to fit in but to fit in despite being, in many ways that mattered a lot in 1965, "different." Also, our senior years in high school tend to be rather memorable, as anyone who makes teen angst comedies can tell you while they count their box office dollars.
The problem with that is how Mitt Romney was handed an opportunity to be forthcoming and to stand up and say, "fifty years ago I did something wrong, and I am sorry." And instead, he played it off with the political equivalent of "boys will be boys."
Really? So, holding down a screaming kid and hacking off his hair is just good-natured fun? In Mr. Romney's words, "hijinks?" No. This was not putting a picnic table on the school roof or green food color in the cafeteria eggs. This was a violent attack on a young man who was different and forcing him to conform despite his protests, fear and the very real possibility of permanent injury. (Yes, I consider wielding scissors near the ears of a struggling victim a risk of disfiguring injury.)
What makes it worse is that Romney himself had overcome issues about being different. He was of a different religion than his classmates, one that has always struggled with being perceived as almost a cult. He was not very athletic yet hung out with boys who clearly were (Thomas Buford,who assisted Romney, was the school's wrestling champion.) Romney, to his credit, found ways around these things and rose to become a school leader. But that also means, he should have known how the boy he attacked felt. Either he did not, which indicates a lack of empathy, or he ignored those feelings, which is cruelty.
So why should this matter, fifty years later? Romney has a lifetimes worth of seasoning, and it seems self-relevant that he is probably a far wiser and less violent person today. And, after all, how many of us didn't do something stupid in high school we later wished we could take back?
Certainly, we all have adolescent regrets. Those times form the people we are now. And I certainly do not feel Mitt Romney should not be allowed some of them.
The problem I have is this: his behavior has become less dramatic, but his rationale for it seems to have remained.
Romney attacked the boy because he was different and he didn't want to allow that to go unpunished, perhaps especially after Romney himself had made the effort to change. According to the article, Romney said, “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” And that is incredibly characteristic of this man's behavior even today.
Mitt wants to force people to conform to his perception of right and wrong now, just as much as then. He wants you to pursue the same reproductive choices as his family and friends, he wants to define social institutions in favor of his friends perceptions. He thinks you should meet his expectations, or the expectations of his society, and if you don't, you "can't" be allowed to get away with it.
That's a bully. And whether he is wielding scissors or the power of the executive office, it is still a matter of him imposing his will on you.