Recently, Washington Post’s Jason Horowitz recounted an incident involving Mitt Romney during his days at Michigan’s Cranbrook Prep, part of a series of biographical articles about the GOP Prez candidate. Romney reportedly led a group of his cronies in pinning down a less popular classmate, cutting off his bleached blond locks.
When the story broke, a Romney spokesperson gave the “Gee, I don’t recall” response. An extremely popular position with politicians on both sides of the fence, from Watergate to Iran Contra to Rielle-gate. When Romney’s cohorts expressed long-lasting shame and guilt, perhaps the Mitt camp realized that wasn’t going to fly. Mitt didn’t exactly express a mea culpa. His explanation landed more on the “my bad, boys will be boys” side of things.
“Back in high school, I did some dumb things and if anyone was hurt by that or offended, I obviously apologize for that. I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school, some might have gone too far and for that I apologize.”
Placing a sleeping classmate's finger in hot water to see if he’d wet the bed? Pranks and hijinks. Leading a group of students to pin down a bullied classmate and chop off his hair with scissors? Assault. I can only imagine the terror experienced by Lauder, the now-deceased student.
I’ve heard enough people excuse this incident as “something we just did back then.” Maybe I wasn’t around when Mitt went to school but I’m pretty sure physically intimidating someone perceived as an “odd duck” was never considered good form.
Historically, Alpha males have often led the charge against those least likely to defend themselves. Some consider this survival of the fittest or a rite of passage. When I taught a religious school class as a college student back in the eighties, I remember coming to the rabbi’s wife for advice how to handle the mob of second graders who would relentlessly tease some mixed race children in my class. Her response? “Kids will be kids. If you’re going to be different from everyone else, you need to learn how to develop a thick skin.” I turned on my heels and never looked back.
Our schools may preach zero tolerance for bullying but we still give bullies a rather long leash, presumably to whip those other kids into shape. When my daughter was in fifth trade, a classmate drew all over her clothes with a highlighter. The principal’s response when I paid him a visit? “Haha. Boys will be boys. Maybe he thinks she’s cute. Are you planning on washing the clothes?”
Giving bullies a free pass just breeds the “my bad” refusal to accept any responsibility for actions. Mean girls and boys grow up to be mean adults with little compassion for those less entitled.
Mitt’s high school “pranks” will probably be forgotten by the time the next story hits the news cycle. His cavalier attitude towards what was a pivotal event in the lives of his classmates is indicative of character. Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus eloquently cites, “Character and disposition are capable of change, but they also reveal themselves early on.”
Mitt had the opportunity to directly apologize for his actions, empathizing with the 160,000 plus kids who stay home from school because they are bullied or tormented by classmates. But, instead, he chose the “boys will be boys” route.