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.