A stumbling block for the blind

Mitt Romney’s schoolboy sense of humor included encouraging a blind teacher to walk into a closed door by pretending to open it for him.

Mitt Romney’s “pranks” seem to have had a common thread: picking on the vulnerable. Not just boys perceived as effeminate, but also the handicapped:

One venerable English teacher, Carl G. Wonnberger, nicknamed “the Bat” for his diminished eyesight, was known to walk into the trophy case and apologize … As an underclassman, Romney accompanied Wonnberger and Pierce Getsinger, another student, from the second floor of the main academic building to the library to retrieve a book the two boys needed. According to Getsinger, Romney opened a first set of doors for Wonnberger, but then at the next set, with other students around, he swept his hand forward, bidding the teacher into a closed door. Wonnberger walked right into it and Getsinger said Romney giggled hysterically as the teacher shrugged it off as another of life’s indignities.

This wouldn’t matter as much if Romney’s preferred public policies didn’t reflect the same theme: find someone helpless, and make that person’s life miserable.

No doubt all the folks who oppose equal rights for gays on Biblical grounds will be familiar with the relevant scripture (Lev. 19:14): “You shall not curse the deaf nor place a stumbling block before the blind.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

54 thoughts on “A stumbling block for the blind”

  1. What a contemptible human being the Republicans have nominated.

  2. Since you are fond of quoting Leviticus, Mark, what of Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” Is that the same Leviticus you’d have us remember? Some homosexuals might have a problem with you characterizing them as “helpless” too.

    1. Bux, I venture to speculate that rather than endorsing the proscriptions of Leviticus Mark was encouraging those who do so – like, say, a big chunk of the base of the Republican party – to consider another, apposite passage.

      More generally, the thing that’s incredible in this story is that it isn’t just kids being brutal to other kids; when massively privileged kids are encouraged (by tacit permission) to physically abuse teachers, and apparently weak, elderly teachers at that, there’s something very wrong here. Remember: this is a school that allegedly expelled one of Mitt’s other victims because he smoked one cigarette, which is apparently much, much worse than physical assault on another student or even on a teacher.

    2. Does Leviticus prescribe death for eating pork or shell fish?
      Eaters of the unclean shrimp cocktails shall be cursed among men and you shall cast out the devourers of the McRibs! Can Ah hear an Amen?

    3. Ummm, did you miss the part where Mark said “No doubt all the folks who oppose equal rights for gays on Biblical grounds will be familiar with the relevant scripture”, Bux?

      It seems you have it backward. Mark is pointing out the hypocrisy of “the folks who oppose equal rights for gays on Biblical grounds” — you know, folks that are “fond of quoting Leviticus”, like the passage you quoted — who are likely to give Romney a pass on his violation of the passage Mark quoted. Not to mention those evil shellfish-eating and blended-fabric wearing abominations.

  3. The story about Wonnberger, as reported in the Washington Post, has some . . . how should one put it? . . . anomalies.
    Your ellipsis omitted this questionable report: “Once, several students remembered the time pranksters propped up the back axle of Wonnberger’s Volkswagen Beetle with two-by-fours and watched, laughing from the windows, as the unwitting teacher slammed the gas pedal with his wheels spinning in the air.” Severely diminished eyesight, but driving a car?

    Like the oft-repeated dog-on-the-car-roof story, these parables seem almost too neatly packaged.

    Still, I would expect a Republican Presidential candidate to be oriented strongly to social dominance, and, therefore, political and economic domination. But, couldn’t that point be made, by reference to policy desiderata, as well as, or instead of, attempts at armchair psychology and character assassination?

    1. The dog-on-roof-of-the-car story has been beaten into the ground, but the sourcing is impeccable: one of his own sons told the story, apparently thinking it demonstrated his father’s resolve or resourcefulness or something.

    2. Many people may not understand the meaning or consequeces of some obscure paragraph in a budget bill but we all understand that mean spirited kids grow up to be mean spirited adults. As somebody said, you are who you were in high school.
      “Little George” Bush enjoyed blowing up frogs. Big George grew up to oversee torture and destroying a country as well as carelessly blowing up the world economy. And did it all with a smirk.
      Young Mitt liked tormenting people in school. Older Mitt likes to be able to fire people and is amused by stories about closing factories and caging his family dog on the roof of his car.
      Policy is made by people and *Mean people suck*.

      1. And mean spirited kids who don’t grow up to be mean spirited adults typically achieve that transformation by a process involving self-awareness. This is likely to be something they’re justly proud of, and that they recommend to others. They don’t disclaim all knowledge of having once been a mean spirited kid, and apologize in the passive voice if anyone was offended:

        “As to pranks that were played back then, I don’t remember them all, but again, high school days, if I did stupid things, why, I’m afraid I’ve got to say sorry for it,” Mr. Romney, 65, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said in a Fox News Radio interview on Thursday.

        1. Notice that he didn’t apologize for doing mean things but for doing stupid things.
          Whipping up and leading a selfrightious mob of students to barge into a student’s room and assault him and forcably cut his hair may be stupid but it is definitly mean spirited.
          Deliberately setting up a blind man to walk into a door for amusement is mean. “Mean” of course original meaning is small. Anyone who could find amusement in that prank is certainly small.
          Engaging in the business practice of hostile takeovers of companies and then bleeding them of assets, putting employees out of work is … mean is too weak a word.
          I realize that predatory capitalism has become common place and so seems normal to many people but this is exactly the kind of activity that has dragged the US and world economy to the brink of disaster.
          Mitt Romney is literally a robber baron. He chose that line of work. Like he said, he likes to fire people. Anybody who can’t see the guy is mean is as blind as that old teacher was.

    1. Maybe I am inferring something that you did not mean to imply, but it sounds to me as though you imagine that all straight males are strictly meat and potatoes kind of guys when it comes to sex. If you were yourself straight, I might imagine that you are projecting more than a bit…

    2. Well, no, not necessarily, which is why state laws against sodomy (for example, in Texas) banned all intercourse that didn’t replicate the reproductive act, including between a man and a woman.

      Molly Ivins was predictably unforgettable on the subject.

      1. Love the late, great Molly Ivins. Her quip about the sodomy law was priceless!

        I also enjoyed the Boots Cooper story. And her theme: keep fighting the good fight, and don’t forget to enjoy it!

        Great column. Thanks for the link.

  4. Howard Fineman, on and of Huffington Post, is playing this Romney forced haircut assault story as the “Obama Machine” painting Romney with “cartoonish and caricatured” stories.

    It’s when these incendiary stories break that certain so-called liberal journalists reveal their true allegiance, as they race into print with a fire hose to save this or that VIP.


    1. Fineman seems to be pointing out the fecklesness of Romney in the image department. The man and his campaign have stepped into more piles of doo than is imaginable and still can’t seem to figure out how to stop doing it. “The Obama Machine” is just helping out just as Mitt helped that blind prof into the closed door.

  5. It seems to me that Romney’s behavior at Cranbrook is about what one would expect of the time and place. Upper class parents in that era did not send their sons to prep school to become sensitive persons. The whole point was to breed in them a sense of their superiority– to those who were weak and not of their kind, including their teachers (remember, those who can’t do, teach.) Most of the preppies I met in that era were reasonably smart but determinedly anti-intellectual, and they were quick to look down on anyone different. The same hair-cutting incident happened in ’66 at Stanford, when frat boys jumped David Harris, the anti-war student body president, and shaved his head. (Romney missed his chance to be part of it; he had just left Stanford to do his mission in France.) I find it encouraging that some of Romney’s cohort now find their youthful conduct reprehensible. That Romney has no regrets or even memory of his behavior is a sign of how well his class training took. But then the entire campaign has been telling us that.

  6. I think I’d be more impressed by this, if the stories were not falling apart/being retracted. But I will admit it’s a viable political technique: Put out dirt on your opponent, and count on the revelations about the dirt not technically being true never catching up.

    Guess there weren’t any divorce records to unseal, so they had to resort to this. I’d call it a desperation move, but I suspect it was actually the first thing that came to mind, not the last.

    1. Brett, I would suggest that you are flatly incapable of substantiating your claim that the stories are “falling apart/being retracted”. Even in the fever swamps of the wingosphere all I can find is that one person quoted in other sections of the story professes ignorance of the haircutting incident, which despite how the wingosphere is describing it is in no way either a retraction or a refutation of any claim in the article, and that the sisters of the late Mr. Lauber say that he never told them the story and they’re irritated that he is now nationall famous for being victimized fifty years ago.

      Meanwhile, people who actually held the young Mr. Lauber down while Romney cut his hair have come forward, and have not retracted. You will note, by the way, that Romney does not affirmatively deny this specific incident, an omission that seems interesting in its own right. Unless you’ve got information not widely available, your claims about the veracity of the story seem to be sheerest nonsense.

      1. Sorry about somehow messing up the closing italics tag (after “Lauber”, if it matters).

      2. Not only that, but the writer of the piece was quite explicit that this was not a result of oppo research, that the story come up in the course of talking to people who attended school with Romney and went from there. And the people quoted in the article have no political reason whatsoever to want to hurt Romney.

        But yes, Brett playing the faux naïf who has never heard of Swiftboating, or all the stunts Karl Rove has pulled over the years, is rich.

        1. It’s always interesting to see which particular piece of right-wing tomfoolery Mitt.. I am sorry, I mean Brett.. Bellmore attempts to sell on a given day.

    2. “Put out dirt on your opponent, and count on the revelations about the dirt not technically being true never catching up.”

      Yes, Obama’s team has really stumbled onto something there. Please send any response to Perspecticus@swiftboat.com

      1. That domain appears to be in use by a Florida seller (or lister) of used boats. Do you actually have any connection with them, or do you just enjoy giving people a fake email address that causes them to receive mysterious emails?

    3. The thing about Brett’s comment is that I really think it’s sincere. I think that he truly believes that the accusations against Mitt are being retracted or falling apart, regardless of there being no evidence of this.

      I can only boggle when I reflect that this is the same Brett who thought birtherism was a legitimate contribution to public debate.

        1. Well, there was a supermoon recently. Didn’t look particularly blue though.

    4. Insofar as I am aware, none of these stories has “fallen apart” or been retracted. If, as you say, you know different I would be grateful if you would share the source of that knowledge.

    5. you’re doing nothing more or less than trolling with that one brett. unless you really are THAT fatuous.

  7. “Mitt Romney’s “pranks” seem to have had a common thread: picking on the vulnerable.”

    I just want to point out that people who are not vulnerable very rarely get picked on.

    1. Perspecticus offers an interesting perspective on what Republicans consider virtue nowadays: the good sense to not pick on somebody one’s own size.

      1. Perspecticus is just noting the population dynamics, not the morality or virtue.

  8. Look– The haircut “prank” if executed as reported is clearly a criminal assault by a legal adult (Romney was reportedly 18, and the victim was “terrified”)– and also a criminal gang conspiracy (Romney organized his friends to hold the victim down). This is not something that should be treated as a “boys will be boy” manner as NBC news seemed to.

    Also 1) If Romney truly doesn’t remember this incident, which clearly happened according to the testimony of multiple participants, doesn’t that mean that it must have been no big deal to him at the time — i.e. that illegal behavior was part of his character? And of course if he does remember then he is a liar?


    2) As someone who is not much younger than Romney, I can say clearly that even on elementary and middle school playgrounds at that time effeminate kids were bullied as homosexuals and we all knew a long list of synonyms for queer that were used as insults.

    Romney has trashed his own character

  9. I suspect Mitt’s wife, Ann, will find a way to believe Mitt when he insists that he just can’t remember, but the sons won’t believe, and neither will anybody else.

  10. What’s worse than queer-bullying as a 17-year-old — much, much worse — is laughing it off and passively issuing a “if I offended anyone” fake-apology.

    Every other man who was involved in this gang-bullying assault and battery expresses (now) sincere regret and horror at reflecting on their own actions.

    Not Rmoney. Sociopath

  11. PS I beg y’all to try a thought experiment: think how Romney’s actions and utterances, in any given “gaffe,” would be perceived f they were made by a short, not particularly well-groomed, non-influential, blue-collar person with only a high school education.

    It’s amazing the behavior that we accept from an alpha male in an expensive suit of clothes.

    1. It’s amazing the behavior that we accept from an alpha male in an expensive suit of clothes.

      All animals are equal but some plutocratic animals are more equal than others.

  12. Let’s not get distracted.

    Being a jerk when you’re young is one thing. Living several more decades without (apparently) experiencing any personal growth is another. If you listen to the radio show, you can pretty much tell that he’s lying. At least, that was my very strong impression. Check it out yourself. If you really didn’t remember something, why would you laugh about it? And with the inadequate apology, I think we have most of the evidence we need here. I’m sorry but it seems he is both a liar and a rather bad role model.

  13. Can you imagine the moral outrage if the Kenyan Socialist had done things like this?
    Why there’d be a frigging big media storm that not even the Sun, in a fit of magnetic rage, could out-radiate…

  14. Watch as the right wing media now sifts through Obama’s entire adolescence to find evidence of him being mean to someone. The difference is that it’s not in Obama’s character to be mean–where Romney has shown a slightly sociopathic lack of concern for others throughout his life, it seems. But then that’s not far from the core temperament of the GOP these days.

  15. Carl G. Wonnberger was my grandfather. I don’t know if Mitt Romney teased him or not. I do know that my grandfather and Mitt’s father, Governor George Romney, were friends. I also know that Mitt has publicly praised my grandfather for being a wonderful teacher. Even though I believe that Mitt Romney would make a poor president, I hope that he is appalled by this story and does something to restore my grandfather’s reputation.

  16. There seems to be a pattern emerging. If you’re “in,” like the Bain associate whose daughter seemed to be missing, Mr. Romney will pull out all the stops to help . However,if you are “out”the best you can hope for is benign neglect. Not exactly what 99.9% of us need in our next President.

  17. The thing that makes this story relevant to Mitt’s unfitness to be president is that, when he was governor of Massachusetts, he trashed a commission that one of his Republican predecessors had set up to fight bullying of LGBT kids in the schools. The pro-bullying caucus still exists and is still a real threat (one of the posters here wrote movingly about the proposed religious exemption to an anti-bullying law in Michigan), and Mitt was a proud member.

    Oh, and what made him do it was apparently that the commission promoted a Pride parade, and the bigots showed him a picture of men dressed as women at the parade. Guess Mitt still thinks they just can’t look like that.

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