Just one day after Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, The Washington Post published accounts that US presidential candidate Mitt Romney bullied fellow classmates during his high school years.
Romney's alma mater, the Cranbrook School, was an all-male straight-laced institution where his classmate, John Lauber, was "perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality" because of his long bleached hair. Matthew Friedemann, a former friend and classmate of Romney's, recalled that Romney was incensed about Lauber's appearance. "He can't look like that," Friedemann recalled Romney saying. "That's wrong. Just look at him!"
Five separate individuals recalled an incident in which Romney and his friends assaulted Lauber. They pinned Lauber to the ground and restrained him while they forcibly cut off his hair.
"It was a hack job," recalled Phillip Maxwell, a childhood friend of Romney and a witness. "It was vicious." Thomas Buford, a retired prosecutor who helped restrain Lauber at the time, recalled that "it happened very quickly, and to this day it troubles me." Additionally, Romney was cited as having yelled "atta girl" in class to another male student who later came out as gay.
In response, Romney turned to everyone's favorite Republican mouthpiece, Fox News, to explain himself in a radio interview with Brian Kilmeade. "I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school and some may have gone too far," Romney said, "And for that I apologize." Romney then appeared on Your World With Neil Cavuto, again on Fox News, to reiterate his pseudo-apology.
I had no idea what that individual's sexual orientation might be. Going back to the 1960s that wasn't something that we all discussed or considered. So that's simply just not accurate. I don't recall the incident myself, but I've seen the reports and I'm not going to argue with that. There's no question but that I did some stupid things when I was in high school and obviously if I hurt anyone by virtue of that I would be very sorry for it and apologize for it.
Lauber died in 2004, but his family has spoken out against the Post article. They claim the story is factually incorrect. While I can only speculate about which facts the family is referring to, it's quite possible that their late son was not gay and they resent his being portrayed as such. Or they could just be Republicans.
While I'm suspicious that Romney has forgotten an event his friends and classmates seem to remember so vividly, I understand why he might not want to be judged by high school actions that took place over 40 years ago. Unfortunately for him, that's what we do in politics. Did Clinton smoke pot in 1969? Did Bush get a DUI in 1976? Politicians, particularly presidential candidates, are responsible for explaining all sorts of personal crap from their pasts. Sometimes, as in Bush's case, the questions are really about whether a particular aspect of a politician's personal life could negatively affect their ability to hold office. Others, like Romney's case, are really a test to see how the candidate will handle themselves. Romney didn't come out great on this one.
Let's get real, we're having a gay bullying crisis and an anti-bullying moment. If Romney had an ounce of sense, or for that matter genuine remorse, he might have used this as an opportunity to show his softer side and do some real good towards bullying prevention in the US. Romney would have been wise to say, "I'm mortified by my actions, and it is now clear to me that even good kids can get swept up in hurtful behavior. When I am president I will enact laws to ensure that our children are safe in schools." Unfortunately, that would mean going against the Republican party by coming out in favor of actually legislating something other than law after law against gay marriage.