The story of the morning is that 18-year-old Mitt Romney and a bunch of prep school buds bullied John Lauber, who had bleached blond hair that covered one eye and was relentlessly teased for his “nonconformity and presumed homosexuality,” as today’s Post puts it.
Romney and his pals held Lauber down and Romney clipped the kid’s hair as he teared up and yelled for help. One former classmate called the episode “vicious.”
Today, Romney apologized, though he didn’t cop to the actual episode:
“Back in high school, I did some dumb things, and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that...I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school, and some might have gone too far, and for that I apologize.”
It’s hard to see why this story isn’t fair game in journalistic terms. The conservative complaint this morning that it’s an unfair hit piece seems absurd: the man is running for president. Every aspect of his life is going to get picked over. It comes with the territory. It’s a deeply reported piece. In journalistic terms, the story is totally legit.
But like Steve Benen, I’m of two minds about this one. On the one hand, based on what we know, this episode, plus the others detailed in the article, do seem to be more cruel and nasty than your garden variety teen razzing. I’ve seen a bunch of commentary out there to the effect that this reveals a real mean streak, a disdain for the weak, and an ugly side to his sense of privilege. Some have suggested that it reveals a homophobic streak.
But when it comes down to it, this all happened too long ago and too early in Romney’s life to know with real certainty whether it’s revealing of any of those things or not — particularly when it comes to who Romney is right now. I can’t get around the simple fact that I wouldn’t want to be judged today by some of the things I did in my teens, and I suspect many others feel the same way.
I’m not running for president, obviously, and it’s a reality of presidential politics that those who do run will have every facet and stage of their life scrutinized relentlessly for clues to who they are. And character matters in a presidential candidate. But Romney says he’s changed; I don’t know how you can prove or disprove that. And to me, that’s the rub. Because of that, I don’t see how you can reach sufficiently firm conclusions about the meaning and relevance of these episodes to who Romney is now.
People will argue that it speaks to a larger pattern that reveals his true nature. Maybe so, but I don’t see the harm in sticking to more recent data points in order to establish that pattern with more certainty. And at any rate, on the most important question of all — how Romney would govern — his policy proposals and his glaringly obvious values and priorities already speak as loudly as anyone could want.