Mitt Romney apologizes for prep school incident

May 11, 2012

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s high school pranks at the elite Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., were in the news Thursday, as Jason Horowitz reports on a troubling incident recalled by some of Romney’s former classmates:

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.

Romney apologized for his pranks during a radio interview Thursday, Philip Rucker writes:

Mitt Romney apologized on Thursday morning for pranks he helped orchestrate in high school that he said “might have gone too far,” including an incident in which he pinned down a fellow student and cut his hair. [...]

“Back in high school, I did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that,” Romney said in a live radio interview with Fox News Channel personality Brian Kilmeade. Romney added: “I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school and some might have gone too far and for that, I apologize.”

How will voters react? Chris Cillizza wrote that it depends largely on the partisan leaning of the voter before reading about his Cranbrook history:

Romney’s acknowledgment of his behavior in high school so soon after his campaign issued something close to a denial in the Post story, which included a series of on-the-record retellings from others who participated, is a recognition on behalf of the campaign that prolonging this story would be detrimental to him and his chances this fall.

It also raises a larger question, however. Is how a person running for president acted more than four decades ago relevant to who they are today — and what they might be like as president?

In this particular case, how you come down on that issue is largely dependent on which partisan hat you wear. (Is there actually such a thing as a “partisan hat”? If so, where do you buy them? And does Nigel Tufnel sell them?)

The reality of the current way in which we pick presidents is that virtually everything you have done in your life is fair game. (Is that the right way to do things? That’s a different blog post.)

Go back through the last several presidential elections — or even the last several months of this race — and you see evidence of that fact.

Republicans sought to make an issue of the fact that President Obama wrote in his memoir that he had eaten dog as a child in Indonesia. His past drug use is also been fodder for the political gossip mill. John McCain regularly used his time at the Naval Academy to illustrate his maverick nature. Days before the 2004 election, the fact that George W. Bush had been arrested in 1976 for drunk driving in Maine came out. (Bush acknowledged the arrest shortly after the news broke.)

Running for president in this age of information overload, Twitter and the 24-hour cable news cycle has been described as a full body scan that reveals your soul. We agree with that assessment.

Remember too that people vote for president in a way that they vote for nothing else; the vote for president is heavily personality dependent — it’s far more about who you are than what policy positions you have staked out. Given that, what you have done throughout your life does matter.

Of course, it is possible that experiences in your younger life change you in some meaningful and important way. Romney said as much this morning; “I’m a very different person than I was in high school, of course, but I’m glad that I learned as much as I did during those high school years,” Romney said this morning. “I’m quite a different guy. I’m married, have five sons, five daughters-in-law, and now 18 grandchildren.” (Personal sidebar: The Fix was a very different person in high school — less confident, meaner, more petty — than we are today. Time can change things.)

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