I’ve been wrestling with the Romney bullying thing for a bit now, I’m glad RE decided to tackle it first. I do wish we had some kind of Truth and Reconciliation Commission for childhood antics; let politicians come forward and say “I smoked pot,” “I once bullied a kid,” “I have fantasies about Matt Bomer in a bathhouse”, and then let them run on issues instead of running away from inconvenient truths in their childhood.
But there are some things in childhood that do mark a man, and this instance may be one of them. He was privileged, powerful, rich, and from the accounts we’ve heard, led the attack. That may say something about Romney the man as well as Romney the little lordling. James Fallows offers this insightful look from the perspective of someone who remembers the time:
I knew a lot of tough kids at my big public high school, and I kept my wary distance. They would get in fights and beat people up and generally make others afraid. But the worst you would hear is that someone had gotten stuffed in a locker, or “pantsed” and left in his underwear on the football field, or “pinkbellied” (held down, and slapped on his bare stomach), or, at worst, ganged-up on in the boys’ room and dunked head-first in the toilet bowl. All this happened, and fortunately not to me. But the next day, no one would necessarily know about it — not even the parents, if the kid didn’t tell them when he went home. Cutting off someone’s hair is different. It’s a shaming ritual that is meant to last — and that the victim must carry around on his person for weeks.
No doubt the dynamics were different, in ways I can’t fully imagine, at an all-boys school, and with boarders rather than kids whose parents would say that night, “What happened to you? Who did this???” ["Umm, dad, it was the governor's son..."]
So to end this historical note: cruel teasing of “sissies” sounds unfortunately representative of the era. Cutting off a sissy’s hair does not. And assuming it happened, as a number of Mitt Romney’s classmates have attested by name, we are left with Romney’s claim that he “doesn’t remember” the episode. I think it’s worse for him if he’s telling the truth.
Obviously it’s somewhat of a cop out to say “it was a different time,” but often times it was very different. Fallows shows that even back then, this was something more cruel than usual. As Joe Klein and RE said earlier, the fact that he could now dissemble on a childhood incident is far more relevant and should be harmful to his reputation. As Fallows points out, if Romney truly doesn’t remember it, that’s even more telling about his character.