Joe Klein on Mitt Romney, with specific reference to his “failure to remember” the mob attack he led in high school:
Romney has a near perfect record of cowardice, obfuscation and downright lies. It shows enormous disrespect for the intelligence of the public.
(Note that Klein didn’t say “unjustified disrespect;” Romney could still Etch-a-Sketch his way to the White House.)
Now the right wing has to figure out how to deal with this. Of course, they have practice believing six impossible things before breakfast – global warming isn’t happening, waterboarding isn’t torture, public-sector jobs aren’t jobs – but this one is hard. And of course they know there’s more like this coming: e.g., Romney’s immediate retreat from his statement that gay couples have a “right” to adopt, accompanied by a transparently false denial that he’d said what he in fact said.
As far as I can tell, the pro-Romney blogosphere has three basic reactions to the event:
1. Denial. Lots of meta stuff about the timing of the story and questions about whether it happened, despite the testimony of five participant-witnesses, four willing to be named. And no one on the Right seems to find it hard to believe that if Romney had not led the attack he would have difficulty remembering that he hadn’t.
2. Obama is worse. This is, of course, a mere reflex. It comes in a couple of versions: likening an admitted history of illicit drug use to leading vicious, violent mob attack; equating Obama’s story of having been mean to a fifth-grade classmate to the assault Romney committed when he was eighteen; and transparently vacuous Ayers-Wright-college transcripts chatter. (Rush Limbaugh broadens this out to other Democrats, and Ann Althouse – who surely can’t be as stupid in real life as the character she plays on her blog – pretends to be a ditto-head.)
3. Minimization and “boys-will-be-boys.” Key word here is Romney’s own use of “prank.” The semi-official talking point is “I’d hate to be judged by the stuff I did in high school.” Fair enough.
But it’s worth noting that, at the time Romney clipped the hair of the screaming, crying kid his friends were holding down, he was past his eighteenth birthday. He could have been charged and sentenced as an adult: at minimum, with assault and battery and conspiracy to commit assault and battery. Those are misdemeanors in most states, though in some states conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor is chargeable as a felony. I haven’t found the relevant Michigan law, but my California-prosecutor friend tells me that under CA law holding someone down by force is chargeable as “false imprisonment,” a felony. An unduly aggressive prosecutor might even try to charge felony aggravated assault on the theory that scissors are a deadly weapon, even if in this case they weren’t being used in a deadly fashion.
A criminal record has a lifetime impact. In some states – including most of the Confederate states that form Romney’s Electoral College base – a felony conviction carries with it a lifetime disqualification from voting, along with permanent disqualification from a wide range of occupations and professions, from lawyering to barbering. Many states allow people under the usual age of adult criminal responsibility to be charged in adult court for especially serious crimes committed as juveniles, and some of those children are sentenced to life in prison without parole under felony-murder rules, even though they, personally, didn’t physically harm anyone.
So which is it, my pseudo-conservative friends: Are you willing to ruin someone’s life based on his actions at age 18, or even younger, or are you not? Or does it depend on his skin color and how rich his parents are?