Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School… he spotted something he thought did not belong at a school where the boys wore ties and carried briefcases. John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it. “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told… [a] close friend… Mitt, the teenaged son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look… A few days later… Romney march[ed] out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair… 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… “It happened very quickly, and to this day it troubles me,” said… the school’s wrestling champion, who said he joined Romney in restraining Lauber. Buford subsequently apologized to Lauber, who was “terrified,” he said. “What a senseless, stupid, idiotic thing to do.” “It was a hack job,” recalled… a childhood friend of Romney who was in the dorm room when the incident occurred. “It was vicious.”Most people grow up and change with the passage of time and I think it would be both mistaken and unfair to pretend that an incident like this one "defines" Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney more than his record or positions do (whatever he's being told those are from moment to moment by his handlers), but the airy lack of genuine remorse with which he responded to reports of the incident here and now on the campaign trail seem to me to reiterate the casual insensitivity and cruelty of the original incident and are quite as troubling as the story of this brutal gay bashing itself.
Asked to comment on the incident by The Hill, Romney replied: "I played a lot of pranks in high school… you just say to yourself, 'Back in high school,' you know, 'I did some dumb things.' If anyone was hurt by that or offended by that, obviously, I apologize. But overall, high school years were a long time ago." As somebody who was tripped in the hallway and had chewing tobacco spit on his back and was ganged up on in the locker room and was called a faggot by a chorus of athletes in the cafeteria and was called "Female Dale" and "Dale Queerico" and was regularly humiliated and attacked in front of hundreds of indifferent peers and smiling teachers and felt a leaden ice cold knot forming in my stomach every morning as the hulking contour of the high school building loomed and the bank of doors swept open like the maw of Ginsberg's Molloch hungry for child sacrifice I can tell you, Mitt, that the word "prank" is hardly the right word to describe what you did in your irrational rage at the boy who dared to be a little different from you. It is no more proper for you to call your attack a "prank" than it was right for that other icon of Republican cruelty Rush Limbaugh to compare the images of war crimes and torture at Abu Ghraib to "fraternity pranks" and "innocent rough housing."
It is true that people do dumb things in high school. I took Ayn Rand seriously when I was young, for example. Then I lived a little in the real world and grasped the parochialism and cruelty and magical thinking of Rand's worldview (not to mention her terminally bad writing) and rejected it utterly. But did Romney learn anything from this incident of youthful cruelty and violence and folly?
Romney says, in the usual smug non-apology apology format GOP bigots tend to prefer when they get caught in their casual everyday racism or sexism or indifference to the suffering of the vulnerable publicly crossing the line into blatant inhumanity: "If anyone was hurt by that or offended by that, obviously, I apologize."
If anyone was hurt? If? IF?
Is that even in question? Assault doesn't leave open the possibility of non-hurt and this was clearly an assault! Do people who are not hurting often scream for help and cry in terror in your company, Mitt?
I don't know what I find more damning, the fact that Romney might so effortlessly lie about forgetting this violent assault on a fellow student crying and screaming for help while he pinned him down and slashed at his face with those shears or the stunning possibility that a person could actually truly forget a thing like that?
Presidential figures assume the weird mass-mediated psychic space that celebrities also occupy, in which millions come to feel sure they know a person when what they know is simply a profile strung together from a constellation of incidents spun by PR people and then forced directly into center of our attention. I do not know who Mitt Romney is. I don't pretend that Mitt Romney the man is one and the same as the ugly cartoon forming in my mind from this incident of gay-bashing connected to his declaration that he enjoys firing people connected to the incident in which the Romney family dog Seamus was lashed to the roof of a car for a long drive across country in icy whether despite the fact that he was sick and suffering and when he became incontinent Romney robotically sprayed him down with a hose and rather than comforting him or making space for him in the car simply crammed him back wet and miserable into the lashing winter wind and drove on.
But I will say that there is a reason that these are the incidents that resonate with me. It is because when Romney congratulates himself for his "success" he makes no distinction between the way a person might make a fortune providing useful goods and services people need and the way he made a fortune buying up companies and firing everybody and sending the jobs offshore where slave labor is cheap and costs are low because standards are too and then looting the remains of once thriving enterprises for scrap before moving on to the next target. It is because Romney signed on enthusiastically to the Randroid Paul Ryan budget that wants to couponize Medicare and lard the already rich with still more tax cuts paid for by cutting support and services for the vulnerable and slashing public investment in the common good. Or as TPM reports, "Mitt Romney clashed with a state commission tasked with helping LGBT youth at risk for bullying and suicide throughout his term as Massachusetts governor over funding and its participation in a pride parade. He eventually abolished the group altogether." What a coincidence! Romney made his fortune in a way that only a callous cruel selfishly short-sighted man could. And he defends policies that are just as callous and cruel and selfish and short-sighted to this day.
The cartoon that is forming in my mind as in the minds of millions of us is not Romney but it is the reality of Romney that makes just that cartoon seem the apt one. It's because the shoe fits, that he must wear it.
If Romney is hurt by that or offended by that, obviously, I apologize.