Bully boy

By the time I’d reached high school, my bully troubles were behind me. I’d learned early on how to deal with them and how not to become one of them. I consider myself fortunate that many of the kids who I thought of as bullies in grade school became good friends by the time high school rolled around.

Nevertheless, I find it comforting that schools are addressing the issue of bullying to the point that the subject has entered presidential politics.

The Washington Post ran a story in which four of Mitt Romney’s classmates at some all-boys boarding school described as “prestigious” recall an incident where Romney and his buddies attacked and restrained a young boy named John Lauber, who is described as “easy pickings” because of his long hair.  Romney, who was the son of a governor and car company president, was a ringleader who led five friends to hold down the boy while Romney cut off the kid’s blonde bangs.

Witnesses described the victim as screaming for help and crying during the attack. It was an image that stuck with them for 50 years. Here is one account in the Post:

After the incident, Lauber seemed to disappear. He returned days later with his shortened hair back to its natural brown. He finished the year but ultimately left the school before graduation — thrown out for smoking a cigarette.

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.”

Lauber died in 2004, according to his three sisters.

The school had a reputation of having a strict discipline policy and one of the witnesses to the attack said he waited to see what would happen, but Romney was never punished. The victim was kicked out of school for smoking a cigarette and Romney got off without so much as a demerit.

Look, none of us are the same person we were in high school. I did dumb things that I wish I could take back (though none of them rise to the level of assault and battery). I don’t believe that Romney is the same person he was 50 years ago. It’s hard to believe he’s the same person he was six months ago *rim shot*

What bothers me about this incident is that Romney claims he doesn’t remember it. So, he issued a non-apology apology and called the whole thing “hijinks” and “pranks.” Faced with four witness accounts of the incident, Romney doesn’t acknowledge his role or the seriousness of the attack. Instead, he says some of his pranks “might” have gone too far and “if” someone was offended, “obviously, I apologize.” He was chuckling through the entire thing. Just like he chuckled while telling a crowd he liked being able to fire people.

That’s infuriating. And it speaks to Mr. Romney’s character that his hijinks were so many that an individual incident of such brutality and cruelty doesn’t even register a glimmer in his mind.

But that’s the way of bullies. They don’t see the consequences of their actions as dire. It was all just merry japes and fooling. It’s seen as a rite of passage. Fathers who bullied in school instill in their sons that same desire.  I believe that’s why so many state legislatures are struggling with anti-bullying legislation, because so many of the people serving in them were on the dishing-out end and very few were required to “take it.”

In Tennessee, there have been some recent suicides by gay teens who were bullied. On the floor of the general assembly, Rep. Jeremy Faison, self-described as “The Conservative,” said he believed these gay teens committed suicide not because of the bullying, but because the didn’t learn the proper values at home. This happened after he claimed to have “beat up” some bullies in his day “who deserved it.” He apologized for his poor choice of words and said his opposition to the bill was to protect the bullies from becoming criminals when, you know, boys will be boys.

As for Romney, it has been interesting to see Fox’s main bully boy Sean Hannity dig into his magic bag of hot air and come up with some false equivalency that shows Obama was a bully, too! It seems when Obama was in grade school, he played with the one other black child, a girl named Coretta. When his classmates started teasing him about being her boyfriend, he shoved her to prove he wasn’t. Because this incident (which is in Obama’s book) hasn’t made all the blogs, Hannity sees this as the mainstream media refusing to cover it.

It isn’t hard to think of Romney as a bully. Bullies are rarely seen as sincere when they apologize. They don’t seem to understand the effects their actions have on people or why anyone would hold it against them. Bullies are often bigger and more popular than their victims and surround themselves with supporters who find it hard to contradict the bully’s penchant for abuse.

Romney’s defenders want us to believe that this incident has been blown out of proportion. That it is a calculated hit piece designed to throw him off message. But it is this very attitude that makes the incident important. It shows us Romney’s lack of willingness to take responsibility. He won’t even acknowledge that he did it, so his apologies ring a little hollow. That’s when you see stories with headlines like “Bully Story a Black Eye for Mitt Romney.

We’re not done, here. You can bet there are teams of reporters combing through Romney’s college years looking for similar incidents. If his “pranks” in high school were so numerous that he cannot recall one as brutal and cruel as Lauber’s, then there must be hundreds of them out there.

Sure, Mitt Romney has changed a lot since high school. But it doesn’t appear like he’s cultivated anything approaching empathy for those less fortunate. We see glimmers of it now: Corporations are people, too. I don’t worry about the very poor. I like being able to fire people.

Saturday

Max had what I considered a perfect sleepover scenario. He would ride the bus to his buddy’s house after school on Friday and get dropped off at home on Saturday after an afternoon showing of “The Avengers.”

This left Dollie, Rozzy and I in a rare group dynamic for weekend activities. We saw “The Avengers” and went to a comic book store.

It was a perfect nerd storm:

The owners of two different comic book stores in Greeneville, combined forces to begin a new store in a new location.

The parking lot of the store was temporary home to a carnival brought to town as a fund raiser for some local civics group.

You read that right. I had to walk by a carnival to get to the brand new comic book store containing all the good stock from two other comic book stores.

On Free Comic Book Day.

Right after the opening of a Joss Whedon film that will most likely be the biggest movie of forever.

We perused the stock of free books, which are mostly excerpts and samples to promote a titles. Dollie suggested Rozzy give “Nancy” a try. Later she presented us with this:

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On the non-apology apology . . .

If you spend any amount of time reading the comments from readers on political stories, you’ll see this argument being thrown out there by some conservative: If liberals are supposedly so tolerant, why are they being so judgmental? This gets under my skin more than most of the standard conservative tropes about liberals.

I’ll give you a real-world example. Last week a pastor in North Carolina named Sean Harris gave a sermon in which he told his congregation that if a little boy of four is acting too girly or has a limp wrist, the father should snap that wrist back up and give the kid a “good punch” and tell him to take off the dress and go outside and dig a ditch. The father should squash that kid’s effeminacy like a cockroach. If a little girl is acting too butch, you should reign her in and tell her she must make herself attractive and act, walk, talk and smell like a little girl. He finished by saying if parents question whether they should be that abusive to their children, he would offer  “special dispensation” for them to go ahead.

When video of this rant went viral, Harris found himself the target of protests, which led to one of those “I’m sorry if you were offended” non-apologies that doesn’t really seem all that sincere. In Harris’ case, the apology included denials that he’d said things he clearly said on tape. So even though you can see and hear him say “give the kid a good punch” his apology claims he never said it.

So, his “statement of retraction” didn’t do much to quash the protests.

Shortly afterwards, he said this on Twitter:

@pastor_sean Even my apology is being judged by those who are supposed to be the most tolerant as insincere. At this point nothing seems sufficient.

I’ve listened to the sermon (which, by the way, was all about getting his congregation to vote for North Carolina’s Prop One, which would add an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage, which is already illegal in North Carolina). I’ve read the retraction. And he’s right in that his “apology” is being judged as insincere. Because it is. It is full of weasel words and statements that you expect from politicians, not preachers.

But what offends me is this idea that because I’m a liberal, I should be tolerant of his views. That’s the same as saying because he’s a Christian, he should be forgiving of the limp-wristed toddler and the sports-loving tomboy, instead of advocating physical and psychological abuse by their parents.

Harris implies that if you’re a liberal, you either have to be tolerant of his views or you’re a hypocrite. That’s stupid. I don’t have to be tolerant of bigotry in any form to maintain my progressive status. But that’s a club that conservatives like to swing at liberals all the time.

Not too long ago, Dan Savage, an anti-bullying activist and LGBT advocate, gave a speech at a journalism conference for high school students. In it, he offended several Christians in the audience with the use of foul language and what was, frankly, an attack on people who use the Bible to attack gays. When some of the kids walked out, he called their reaction “Pansy assed.”

It was clear that he was enjoying the notion that they can dish it out, but can’t take it. That’s playground stuff and Savage should have known better.

Conservatives attacked Savage for being a bully. I agree. Savage was wrong to hurl names at those who exercised their prerogative to not sit there and have their values challenged. He was wrong to call them “pansy assed” because he’s using the same language often hurled at members of the LGBT community. If it’s wrong for one group to do it, how can it be right for Savage?

Soon after, he apologized. The main difference between this apology and Harris’ “retraction” being that Savage didn’t deny what he said. That gives Savage’s apology more credibility in my opinion. Savage recognized what he did was wrong and said he was sorry. He went on to explain that his point still stood.

Harris denied he said what he said, then claimed to have been misunderstood and misinterpreted. That’s not an apology.

It’s the difference between saying “I’m sorry for what I did” and “I’m sorry you were offended by what I did.” See the difference there?

A non-apology apology should be attacked as insincere. His apology didn’t have the same passion that his sermon had because he doesn’t believe he should have apologized.

Here is a simple rule of thumb, should you ever feel the need to issue a public apology. Avoid the word “however.” If you feel the need to clarify your statements, do that separately from the apology. Don’t conflate a clarification with an act of contrition. A simple apology, truly felt, will be the first step in mending fences. Trying to spread the blame around by accusing others of misconstruing what you meant or (in the case of Harris) denying you said the very things that you’re apologizing for, will only lead to more accusations and ill will.

I’ve made a few public and private apologies and I’ve found that the best way to do it is to just do it. Make it simple, concise and don’t try to weasel you’re way out of it. Here is what Harris should have said:

“In a recent sermon, I said some things that were unkind, intolerant and contrary to the teachings of Christ who advocated for us to love each other. I apologize and will strive to ensure that it never happens again. I hope you will all forgive me as I struggle with the same issues that affect us all.”

Here is my fear. In all likelihood there is a child in his congregation that is being physically or psychologically abused. That child heard his pastor tell his dad to hit him. How likely is that child to come to his pastor for help in the future?