Is Romney a Bully?
Much has been made for the past day or two over a hazing incident at Mitt Romney’s prep school, Cranbrook School. Accounts of the incident were taken from several witnesses, independently, and all described a case of Romney targeting an effeminate classmate with bleached blond hair that fell over one eye. According to the witnesses, Romney jumped the boy, sheers in hand, and gave him a haircut. The kid was terrified and screamed for help. One the surface, it doesn’t sound all that bad….but was it?
Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, 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 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.
“It happened very quickly, and to this day it troubles me,” said Buford, 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.”
The WaPo’s version sounds far more serious than my version, doesn’t it. Was that intentional? I am not ready to label someone a bully for something he or she did nearly 50 years ago. Let’s look at his age at the time: He was a young man. Plenty of young men do things like that. So do young women, although it is rarer. Kids can be mean. Damn mean. Kids also go for the weakest in the pack and they have a nose and a flair for sniffing the weakest out.
Don’t get me wrong. I do not approve of what Romney did–not in the least. I despise hazing and bullying. I would have thrown him out of school for the incident. Yet, I am not willing to label him a bully. Real bullies have a history of bullying behavior. It doesn’t go away. Bullies are repeat offenders. They pick on the weak, they pick on family members. The bullying can show up with animals, older parents, children.
What does bother me is the fact that Mr. Romney says he can’t remember the incident. I did a few bad things to people and I sure remember them and have a guilty conscience. That includes things I laughed at and didn’t try to stop. I bet he remembers and is just embarrassed to talk about it. If that is the case, and he doesn’t have a history of bullying, then I think we forgive, forget, and move on. It also a good story to tell our kids. You know the one that we tell them about never knowing when something they do wrong will come back to bite them in the butt?
Do you think Romney is a bully? Is it fair to label someone for things they did as a child? As a teenager?