Tag Archives: gay bullying

Mitt Romney: high-school gay bully?

You’ve probably heard about this by now:

Mitt Romney Steve Pearce event 057

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. — 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. 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 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.

I am conflicted about this. One of my least favorite things about contemporary American politics is how irrelevant and pathetic the public discourse has become, and how thoroughly disconnected from the everyday reality of people’s lives the online and TV chatter is. (This frustration is rather nicely captured — although I don’t necessarily endorse the Chris Christie-esque tone of the example he uses — by this piece.)

On the other hand, this 47-year-old story has an odd resonance today, given the struggle for gay rights and the very prominent and ongoing issue of the bullying of gays in schools throughout the United States. It seems to show a whole new and very ugly side to Mitt Romney, taking away what was perhaps his last remaining unequivocal positive: being a “good guy.”

And yet this all seems so primitive at the same time. (The timing is suspicious as well — this appeared in the Post the day after Obama’s announcement on same-sex marriage? Seems bizarre, to say the least.) I mean, this literally happened almost a half-century ago. I constantly rail against the idiocy and irrelevance of criticizing presidential candidates for whichever drugs they did as college kids or how much they drank at social events or who they dated or what pretentious literary criticism they wrote to their female admirers as young, heady academics.

So, as horrifying as this incident assuredly must have been for John Lauber, I’m inclined to give Mitt Romney a break on this one. We’re not dealing with 1965 Romney today. Hell, as we’ve clearly seen, the Romney of today doesn’t even bear any resemblance on major issues to the Romney of just a few years ago, never mind 47 years ago.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that my views on Mitt Romney’s gay bullying are still “evolving.”

UPDATE (5/11/2012 1:48 AM Paris time):

Dish blogger (and prominent same-sex marriage activist) Andrew Sullivan comes to this somewhat similar conclusion:

Should we judge a man today by what he did all those years ago?

Not entirely. He has apologized. But there is surely something here: the notion that being privileged and conformist requires actual punishment of the marginalized and under-privileged; that you pick on younger, weaker boys, not older ones; and that you psychologically traumatize the victim by permanently marking his body.

And this matters because today these attacks on gay kids drive many to suicide, others to despair; they wreck lives and self-esteem. It matters that we know that one candidate for president was an anti-gay bully in high school, targeting a weak and defenseless kid and humiliating and traumatizing him. Today, he does the same thing in a larger, more abstract way: targeting a small minority as a way to advance his own power. It gives me the chills.