Mitt Romney, Bullying, And What He Should Say Now

When I attended Robert Frost Middle School in Rockville, Maryland in the mid-1980s, there was a girl who always wore a bandana around her head. I was a smartass teenager, and she looked different than everybody else – so one day when I passed her in the hall, I quipped, “Nice hat.”

A few months later, the principal announced over the loud speaker that she had died.

I don’t remember her name, but I wince every time I think of that story. I didn’t know she was dying of cancer, but how stupid was I to make fun of her, to add to the pain she was going through?

So this morning’s report that Mitt Romney bullied a few kids as a high school student didn’t surprise me. Many people did stupid things as kids, and few of them disqualify a person for political office.

Mitt Romney as a student in the 1960s

According to The Washington Post:

“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 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.”

Romney wasn’t disciplined for the incident; Mr. Lauber was later kicked out of school for smoking a cigarette. He died in 2004 after spending some time in a psychiatric facility. In a separate incident, the Post reported that:

“Gary Hummel, who was a closeted gay student at the time, recalled that his efforts to speak out in class were punctuated with Romney shouting, ‘Atta girl!’”


Mitt Romney as a student at the Cranbrook School

In another incident, Romney allegedly laughed when a blind teacher was injured after walking into a door. When asked about the incidents earlier today, Mr. Romney used a somewhat dismissive tone:

“They talk about the fact that I played a lot of pranks in high school. And they describe some that you just say to yourself, back in high school I just did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended by it, obviously I apologize. I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school and some might have gone too far and for that, I apologize.”

That’s an insufficient apology. I’ve written many times on this blog about the hedged “if you were offended, then I am sorry” type of apology, which places the action on the subject of the bullying. What’s missing from his “apology?” Any sort of genuine humanity.

The danger for Romney isn’t that he did something stupid as a kid in 1965, but that he risks coming across like that same bully 47 years later.

Here’s what he should have said:

“As a teenager in 1965, I wasn’t as mature as I should have been. Looking back, I’m horrified that I made another boy’s life more difficult. There’s no excuse for that, and I apologize for any damage that my actions caused. More than 45 years later, I understand just how long-lasting the damage of those types of childhood activities can be. I ask to be judged for the man I am today, not the boy I was in the 1960s.”

I think of that girl with cancer often, and am sad every time I do. If the public sees the same kind of legitimate regret from Romney, I can’t imagine this issue will dog him for long.

Editor’s Note: Some readers may question the timing of The Washington Post’s article, which ran shortly after President Obama announced his support for gay marriage. That’s a legitimate topic of conversation, but is outside the scope of this article, which is focusing on the PR fallout of that article.

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