The Washington Post broke a story today about Mitt Romney bullying another student at Cranbrook. It was ugly, but it was high school. Romney dismissed it as such today, saying, “There’s going to be some that want to talk about high school. Well, if you really think that’s important, be my guest.”
No, I don’t particularly think what happened in high school is important, but what is important is character. The problem with Mitt Romney’s apology today is what is missing from it. Nowhere in his apology do we get the sense that he knows why the things he did were wrong – and it wasn’t one incident of bullying a gay student. There was another incident that also hit me as chillingly cruel and telling. Romney “deliberately held a door closed while a sight-impaired teacher walked into it.”
Romney’s apology consisted of, “Back in high school, I did some dumb things. And if anyone was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that.” He also said he doesn’t even remember pinning the victim down and cutting his hair.
If anyone was hurt by it? That’s hardly the point. The point is that as a leader, Romney should be telling Americans what he learned from the experience and how he has grown. He should be condemning bullying, but instead he is playing the victim by taking refuge in his condescending implication that discussing his past is beneath him. The problem with his apology is it sounds like it came from the same Willard Romney who bullied the teenager and tricked a sight-impaired teacher into walking into a door.
In his Washington Post article, Jason Horowitz describes a 1965 incident that is backed up by at least five other Cranbrook students of varying political affiliations. In this incident, Romney led the charge to tackle and then hold down John Lauber, a fellow student one year lower than Romney, in order to cut his hair.
“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 teenaged 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.
“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.”
“It was a hack job,” recalled Maxwell, a childhood friend of Romney who was in the dorm room when the incident occurred. “It was vicious.”
I went to Kingswood, which is the girls school attached to Mitt Romney’s prep school, Cranbrook. I’m told by my friends who went to public school that the sort of cruel tricks regularly played on other students at boarding school are not the norm, but I have memories of particularly crude “pranks”. Of course, this is another world – a world wherein at the end of the year, students throw their teachers in the lake and it’s okay.
This is a world where a certain level of cruelty is expected. Think Gossip Girl on steroids, because Gossip Girl’s fictional high school is not a boarding school, and thus the wealth is localized.
These are different worlds, and people need to understand that. It is not that such a world can’t generate compassionate, brilliant leaders – it has many times. In fact, the entire purpose of the education is to do just that. But it is up to the student to chose that route.
The honor code is stressed at Cranbrook, and the school goes to great lengths to try to impart the values of integrity and honor into its students. The teachers were most often passionate about education, and willing to lend an ear to a student whose own parents were basically missing in action. These were kids who were often shipped off to summer boarding camp after boarding all school year, even when their parents lived just a mile away from the school. Sometimes their parents didn’t even know where they were.
Mitt Romney’s apology reeks of a petulant teenager called to the Big D (the Disciplinary Committee to which I was once called, much to my horror and shame), who knows that his father can get him out of any trouble. I don’t see the best of someone who was so fortunate as to attend such an exciting school, full of opportunity to learn. I see the worst; I see the distant ethos of privilege so enshrined in Romney’s being that true compassion doesn’t stand a chance at penetration.
He held a door so a sight-impaired teacher would walk into it. This was in high school, not junior high. He held a student down while cutting his hair. He mocked another with an “atta girl”. He doesn’t even remember doing this, so how can he really be sorry for it?
He wasn’t disciplined for it then, and it doesn’t sound as if he learned anything since then. What kind of person holds a door so a sight-impaired person walks into it? The same person who many years later left his dog Seamus on the roof of his car for a twelve hour car drive. I’m not seeing compassion or growth, and it troubles me because I don’t even see the dawning recognition that perhaps he can learn something.
I see the shield of privilege being held up once again, with a how dare you bring up high school attitude. Yes, high school was a long time ago and yes, we all did stupid things in high school. And yet, most of us never bullied other students.
I’m afraid that Mitt Romney today is the same Mitt Romney who held that door shut and held a student down. What I see is a person who preys upon the vulnerable. He did it in high school, to such a degree that the others involved in the incident are still troubled by it today.
The young man who held a door shut so a sight-impaired teacher would walk into it later, as an adult, put his pet on the roof of his car and ignored the dog’s brown streams of terror. With the same aloof sense of privilege, Romney shut down businesses and factories, killing jobs for the vulnerable. Sometimes in business tough decisions are called for, but it’s a different matter all together when the vulnerable are preyed upon, not even considered, and worse yet, mocked for being who and what they are.
Romney’s petulant “apology” (“I’m sorry if anyone is offended” is not a genuine apology replete with the appropriate self-examination) is not enough for someone who is running to be the leader of the free world. America is supposed to be a place where all people are equal, not a place where we excuse our leaders of moral responsibility and honor due to their privilege. Where is the honor in Romney’s apology? There is none. There is no recognition of the pain he caused, no recognition of how his actions impacted other human beings.
I certainly don’t wish to return to the vicious world of prep school, but if Mitt Romney is elected, we might just be headed back to the moral equivalent of it, sans the honor code. This isn’t about ideology, it’s about the soul and integrity of America, and I find Mitt Romney sorely lacking in both.