Friday, May 11, 2012

HairGate: Mitt Romney's Alleged Past of Bullying

A day after Obama comes out in favor of gay marriage the Washington Post unleashes releases a story looking at the early formative years of Romney wherein he allegedly bullied a kid who was gay:
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.
This incident was described by five classmates who, although mostly leaning Democrat, swear their affiliation had nothing to do with the incident. The guy in question is dead now. His sister thinks he wouldn't be pleased to have this brought up now:
“If he were still alive today, he would be furious [about the story],” she added with tears in her eyes. ”It’s two 16-year-old kids at school. And it was 40 years ago!”
But the post tells a different story:
Sometime in the mid-1990s, David Seed noticed a familiar face at the end of a bar at Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
“Hey, you’re John Lauber,” Seed recalled saying at the start of a brief conversation. Seed, also among those who witnessed the Romney-led incident, had gone on to a career as a teacher and principal. Now he had something to get off his chest.
“I’m sorry that I didn’t do more to help in the situation,” he said.
Lauber paused, then responded, “It was horrible.” He went on to explain how frightened he was during the incident, and acknowledged to Seed, “It’s something I have thought about a lot since then.”
So there's that. Apparently he was recalled in another incident of student-turned-out-to-be-gay bashing shouting "Atta girl!" when the person tried to speak up in class. The linked Slate article notes that the culture at the time was very different from now and we're (to a degree) applying current standards of behavior to a five-decades past event (for example: how we respond to Mad Men on TV).

The time-differential means this isn't exactly fair (unless it was dog-eating as a boy: fair game!) but it does raise a few interesting questions. These are:

1. Did This Impact His Future Actions?
The Huffington Post has a person from a GLBT group that tangled with Romney saying they think so.
"Just looking at his current behavior, he's so politically opportunistic in his willingness to score political points on the backs of LGBT people -- if that's not the definition of a bully, I don't know what is," said Kara Suffredini, executive director of the pro-gay rights group MassEquality.
Well, no: that isn't actually the definition of a bully and he was a Republican governor (according to the story Romney wasn't happy that his name appeared on a gay pride press release. He moved to de-fund--but then backed off and just put some restrictions on the 1.2 MM tax-payer dollars the group received). I'm unimpressed by this. No one thinks Romney is likely to Etch-a-Sketch to being really gay-friendly but he doesn't seem to still be persecuting anyone.

2. Will This Matter?
NPR notes that we're kind of in an anti-bullying mode right now and that bullying gays is getting some particular treatment. This means the story may have some resonance beyond: young man does something stupid. Indeed, the response of the Romney campaign: a Fox news apology (or: Faux-Apology if you didn't buy it) is one of the higher echelons of "damage control."

Problematically: Romney claims he 'does not remember' the incident--but did lots of stupid things as a kid and is sorry if he hurt anyone. This is almost certainly a lie: our memories are not bad. Unless Romney was pinning and barbering several kids a day ("The blond one? I yeah--kinda--I don't know ... I gave like sixty or seventy kids a haircut that semester ... he coulda been one ...") he almost certainly remembers it.

The alternative is that it didn't happen--in which case he would've said that. Imagine the alternative universe where it is accused he had gay-sex with the kid: his apology would be "Yeah, I don't remember any gay sex. If I did have any gay sex I apologize to my conservative constituents."  Think that sounds plausible? Me neither.

This is problematic: the lie may give the story more lift than it otherwise would carry.

3. Should It Matter?
Harder question. My answer is that "It'll legitimately matter to some people." The Republicans responded to Dogs-vs-Romney by offering up their own pack-attack over Obama's eating dog as a boy. To be sure that is somewhat tongue in cheek--but if no one cares about people referring to Obama as "The jug-eared dog eater" then shouldn't The Barber-Bully be fair-game on Mitt?

Or, you know, maybe it's all so damn silly we should back up and ask if this is anything but crazy.

4. What IS Up With Mitt Romney's Hair Anyway?
Mitt Romney's hair is a presidential thing of beauty. Let's take a closer look.

It has it's own Facebook Page (Not friendly to Romney)

And here is some data on his hair in general (including quotes from the guy who cuts it--apparently he doesn't have to hold Mitt down):
  1. Locals call the style "The Mitt"
  2. The stylist wishes he would wear it "more natural" (ha. If you have presidential hair you wear it that way! Even if you have to sleep on one of those neck-brace things the geisha use to keep it from getting mussed up)
  3. It's natural--no mousse, gel, or color (yeah, right. I bet that stuff is kevlar-bullet-proof)
  4. He pays 70 bucks for a cut. Edwards paid 400.00
  5. He modeled it after his dad's assistant
So there you have it.

What Do I Think?
I think someone needs to coach anyone who is a potential future presidential candidate on how to smile. Maybe it was just me--but Rick Santorum's sneer seemed like the most off-putting grin I could imagine on an otherwise reasonably handsome face. Today, for example, Mitt--despite cries of robotic-ness--looks far less sneering.

This is his yearbook photo:
sp mitt romney high school nt 120510 wblog Former Romney Classmate Describes Bullying Supreme    A Pack of Dogs Who Targeted Different Boy
American Psycho?

Does he look like he could be a bully? I dunno for sure--but contrast to this:
Let's all hold hands and sing along!

As to the hair thing? I think Romney did it, remembers it, was probably an alpha-dog type in school which, probably, came with some bullying. I bet Obama wasn't always the nicest guy to be on the wrong side of either. So do I care? Not really. However, to be honest? This is a fair game shot at this point in the contest. I think it's silly and maybe a little sad--but it is fair. How Team Romney handles this speaks to their ability to right the ship. I'm pretty confident this will blow over in a few days and that Romney's apology, while weak as they go, was probably sufficient to staunch the bleeding.

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