The child is father to the man

It would be absurd to hold Mitt Romney’s participation in an especially vicious piece of high-school gay-baiting – leading a mob that tackled a closeted student and cut off his dyed-blond hair – against him now. But Romney’s current reaction to the event is truly appalling. He’s either an utterly shameless liar or a complete sociopath.

I’d been feeling a little bit sorry for Mitt Romney, who doesn’t seem nearly as nasty as the party whose standard he now bears. But it turns out that leading a mob of bullies comes naturally to Romney.

John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.

“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenaged son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.

A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.

The actual event is less appalling than Romney’s current reaction to it.

In a radio interview Thursday morning, Romney said he didn’t remember the incident but apologized for pranks he helped orchestrate that he said “might have gone too far.”

His campaign spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, said in a statement that “anyone who knows Mitt Romney knows that he doesn’t have a mean-spirited bone in his body. The stories of fifty years ago seem exaggerated and off base and Governor Romney has no memory of participating in these incidents.”

“Pranks”? “Pranks”?

That’s not the eighteen-year-old Romney speaking; that’s the man (loosely speaking) now running for President of the United States.  An actual man would say, “When I was a teenager, I did something horrible, and I’ve regretted it ever since. And I’ve tried to bring up my sons so none of them would ever do what I did.”

Instead he apologizes for nothing in particular and hides behind a flack to half-deny the story, which is supported by the testimony of five eyewitnesses, including a former Republican county chairman from Michigan. You have to listen to the interview Romney volunteered for with a tame Fox News personality to grasp the full depth of his shamelessness and moral idiocy. “Back in high school, I did some dumb things, and if anyone was hurt by that or offended obviously I apologize.” He laughingly denies remembering the mob hair-chopping incident, but then denies that “anyone thought the  fellow was homosexual.”

Seriously, now. Can you imagine doing that to someone and not remembering? If it’s a lie – as I assume it is – just how stupid does Romney think the voters are?

If it’s the truth, then Mitt Romney must be a true sociopath.

We tried having a cowardly bully as President from 2001-2009. How’d that work out?

Footnote The victim died in 2004. There seems to be no record of Romney’s ever having tried to apologize to him.


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:

56 thoughts on “The child is father to the man”

  1. November 2012 will be a time to witness just what type of a nation we live in, who we are as a collective people, and how we will embrace our future whether it be in discord or a time we as a national people begin to discover what it is to hold dear the democratic values that have sustained us through previous times of difficulties and extremisms!

    A vote for Mitt Romney is a nostalgically dangerous effort to bring back the discord of the 19th century – a return to times when business men were puissant, women were ruled by the cult of domesticity, African-Americans lived with Jim Crow, and other language speakers were non-persons!

    Equal rights for all? Not gonna happen under a President Romney.

    1. November 2012 will be a time to witness just what type of a nation we live in,


      This is a country that tolerates torture because we think it might make us safer.
      This is a country that will not do anything about global warming because it might make driving more expensive.

      We already know what kind of country we live in.
      This election is merely a haggling over the price (and, yes, that matters, but that is all that it is).

  2. Yeah, it sounds to me like he straight-up lied when he said he didn’t remember. He was still laughing about it. Here is some actual evidence that he has some serious issues.

    This is one reason I don’t approve of boarding schools. You’re handing your child over to strangers at a very vulnerable time. Heaven knows what sort of monster you’re going to get back.

    It’s one thing to be a jerk in high school. Personally, I give people until they’re about 25 before I start really holding them accountable.

    But to be such a jerk about it now? Mark’s right, his response totally inexcusable and inadequate. And not incidentally, it shows his team has learned NOTHING about scandal control. Totally hamfisted.

    1. Somewhat off-topic, but according to the neuroscientists our brains mature into the mid-20s. (Harris presents a good review in The Moral Landscape.) So 25 is about right.

      I’ll second what you say about boarding schools.

    2. I’m largely there with you; I’ve done my share of stupid things as a teenager and college undergraduate that are too embarrassing to mention (though, unlike in Mitt Romney’s case, nobody but myself ever had to suffer from it). Peer pressure in particular can make you do things that you’d normally not do.

      I am, however, also not much concerned by his current response. You can be pretty sure that this response was largely what his campaign staff thought was the best way to handle the problem. It was not a genuine response, but a scripted one.

      That said, I don’t think Romney possesses a measurable amount of empathy, but that’s more because of recent, unscripted utterances, such as him joking about his father laying off a factory full of workers (he didn’t even seem to realize that closing a factory and moving production to another state entailed exactly that).

      Does that matter, politically? I’m not under any illusions that politicians are ever going to be saints; on the other hand, I still expect them to have a basic moral compass and (even more importantly) understand the problems that they’re dealing with. If he wanted to become Secretary of Defense, I probably wouldn’t care much. As candidate for president, with considerable power to define a social policy agenda, being so blind to the country’s social issues is a strike against him. I have my share of issues with Obama, but this isn’t one of them.

  3. The five-page story has several other cruel pranks, with intimations that there were many, many more. These include the physical abuse of a nearly blind (or merely perennially distracted?) teacher – and I couldn’t decide in that phrase whether to emphasize “nearly blind” or “teacher” – who Mitt apparently walked into a door for the Lulz. What kind of institution permits students to abuse their teachers?

    1. Yes, and from what Kinsley says in Bazelon’s story on Slate, this kind of thing was not unusual. And I doubt if things have changed much.

      Boarding schools — don’t do it!!! It’s hard enough to supervise your kids if you see them every day.

      1. I have friends who went to all-male *day* schools, and all kinds of shenanigans went on that they never mentioned to their parents for YEARS. Finding out about this stuff is a battle in itself.

          1. I’m very sorry, that’s terrible!!

            Like Katja, I make no claim to sainthood myself, but I was lucky enough that I was in a place where certain things just weren’t going to be tolerated. And it was an open enough place that if you did stuff, people would find out, and the problems could be addressed. It isn’t the private-ness of the school, it’s that your kid is miles and miles away from you that, imho, adds layers to an already difficult job.

            But you’re right, this sort of thing can and does happen everywhere. It’s the aftermath that can be different.

          2. The problem was less that I lived in a place where things were tolerated (it was Ann Arbor, for crying out loud) than it was that when I describe what happened, it doesn’t sound like all that much. What made it something that’s stuck with me and caused me to finally realize that it was serious 25 years later was the context. The daily grind of being harassed. The tone of voice that was used. The identity of the people who did it (not, so that I’m clear, an adult at all; female students). There isn’t any way that I could have described it at the age of 14 in 1982 that any of us would have understood as being a sexual assault.

            And this, I think, is some of the context of the Romney incidents. Within society, the definition of what is considered assault and what is unacceptable has changed a lot. One place you can see this is in the way that hazing, particularly on sports teams, is viewed. Three decades ago, it was an accepted and open part of the sports world; it was often required. Today, players can get suspended for engaging in it and coaches can be fired for condoning it.

            None of that is to say that the perpetrators weren’t doing something wrong. They were. But it’s part of the context for Romney’s schoolmates who were a part of the assaults now showing repentance. It’s not just that they got more mature as they aged. They also started living in a world that understood what they had done. I would bet that, even in boarding schools, there is a *lot* less of that kind of behavior tolerated now than there was when Mitt was 18.

            It also reinforces just how loathsome an individual he is, that he can’t see the changes in attitudes around him and draw any understanding from it.

      1. Second? The man’s every unscripted action and utterance betrays his antipathy and contempt for all he encounters – – human, animate, and inanimate.

        If he weren’t a tall good-looking white guy in an expensive suit, his behavior would produce some very different responses and impressions. But everyone treats him like the alpha male. Sick we are, to be such unthinking submissives.

    1. He put a dog on his roof in a carrier and drove with it and once did some high school pranks- this man shouldn’t be President. Instead, I think we should vote for the guy who spent his youth eating dogs before going off to high school to his own book shooting coke, smoking pot, goofing off, and delving into black nationalism before going off to work with Bill Ayers as a radical community organizer for a now disgraced organization.

      1. Some tips for the next time you roll out your trollery:
        1) “eating dogs” was culturally appropriate in Indonesia and probably was not a frequent occurrence. You write as if it were the obsession of his youth.
        1) You don’t “shoot coke”, so far as I’m aware. One of the drug policy experts might be able to clarify.
        2) For that matter, I don’t think you “eat drugs”, at least in most instances, and I recall no mention of “eating drugs” in his memoir.
        3) Goofing off is relative, and temporary. Obama certainly buckled down at some point. Accusing a teenager of having goofed off at some point is a bit silly, unless we all have to become Stakhanovites.
        4) “Delving into black nationalism”? Prove it. At most you can get him for associating with people who dabbled in Black Nationalism.
        5) When he went off to work as a community organizer, he wasn’t especially radical (his main tactic was to arrange meetings between tenants and the housing authority; hardly smashing the system), and he wasn’t working with Bill Ayers.

        So, to summarize, the accurate parts of your comment are that he went to high school, and he illegally used recreational drugs. Oh, and he slacked off for a time.

        By the way, your description of Romney’s having done “high school pranks” is also wildly inaccurate. Even just as described in that one Washington Post story, he committed multiple felonies, including impersonating a police officer, false arrest, assault (on a teacher, no less), and assault with a deadly weapon. That plus a bunch of minor vandalism. And he couldn’t remember any of it, he said, at least for a few hours until the denial tactic was clearly on a hiding to nowhere.

        1. Whoops, forgot to renumber after I added an extra item to the front of the list. Guess we’ll muddle through, though.

      2. Well, Conservative Teacher, the guy who smoked pot and goofed off wrote a book telling us all about it before running for the highest office in the land, so that voters would know that they were not electing Virgil Virgin to sit in the oval office.

        Romney, by contrast, has had to wait for others who witnessed his behavior to bring it to the public’s attention.

        That is a difference that makes a difference.

      3. You know, I really appreciate how conservatives keeping harping on the whole “eating dogs” thing.

        It’s a helpful reminder of just how racist they are.

        1. Indeed. Pigs are just as smart, and most of us eat those. (But I guess not eating pigs marks you as an icky Muslim or maybe a Jew?)

  4. What does it say about the Republican primary that this was not ( discovered and / or promoted ) by any of Romney’s opponents?
    Were they too lame at oppo to find it, or that it would not have hurt him in the primary?

    1. It doesn’t sound like it was that hard to find witnesses willing to talk. It sounds like no one looked into it until now.

    2. It’s worth pointing out that Mitt’s admittedly rather invertebrate Democratic opponent in the 2002 Governor’s race didn’t dig up or didn’t use this stuff also, even though ten years ago memories were fresher and more witnesses and targets were alive. Nor did Ted Kennedy, who didn’t lack for sharp staff or for fighting spirit, in 1994, when these stories were only thirty years old instead of the fifty years they are now. Maybe persistent, abusive bullying wasn’t an obvious path for reporters to go down, an obvious thing to investigate. Maybe one person had to tell a story to one reporter for the right questions to be asked to all these other witnesses who were willing, but perhaps not eager, to talk about what they’d seen.

    3. Or that they didn’t realize it – they’d probably done it themselves more.

  5. Why couldn’t he have put a live hog in the headmaster’s office like regular guys do?

  6. Perhaps he isn’t lying. The incident may have just have been another day’s work for Romney so it doesn’t stand out in his memory. He didn’t feel any shame at the sight of his victim’s tears so nothing marked the moment as memorable to him. I once teased a classmate to tears in elementary school. More than three decades later, I still vividly remember the tears on that poor child’s face. Frankly, I’m glad the shame I feel for that has never left me. It only seems fair.

    1. That was my guess. It’s possible he just didn’t care in any way about it, and thus forgot it. Unlike the others involved, who actually have feelings.

      I still remember the time a friend goaded me into yelling a lame insult at someone who had just gotten off the school bus. This was in middle school. Once. I still feel shame over that.

  7. An actual man would say, “When I was a teenager, I did something horrible, and I’ve regretted it ever since. And I’ve tried to bring up my sons so none of them would ever do what I did.”

    This states exactly my attitude towards politicians who endorsed the Vietnam War, but dodged military service. I don’t hold the dodging against them so much, as their refusal, as adults, to recognize that their behavior was morally dubious. Most of us do dumb, thoughtless things at various times, especially when young. It is a mark of integrity to recognize and acknowledge our own misbehavior.

  8. Mitt Romney, at the coming debates: “You’re damn right I ordered the Code Red!”

  9. I think y’all are dreaming if you expect to elect a non-sociopath as president. Romney did something incredibly shitty as a kid, and finds it politically expedient today to lie about it; Obama does shitty things as president and behaves likewise. Anyone want to try to defend, say, Nader as a non-sociopath?

    At the same time, all three have made real contributions to the public welfare.

    I’m certainly not attempting to minimize the differences between candidates, but I think we ought not construct illusions about the sort of people we elect to public office.

    1. What are Romney’s contributions to the public welfare? The one that springs to mind is Romneycare, and no objection there, it was a contribution – except that he’s disowned it. Anything else?

  10. = = = I think y’all are dreaming if you expect to elect a non-sociopath as president. Romney did something incredibly shitty as a kid, and finds it politically expedient today to lie about it; Obama does shitty things as president and behaves likewise. Anyone want to try to defend, say, Nader as a non-sociopath?

    At the same time, all three have made real contributions to the public welfare.

    I’m certainly not attempting to minimize the differences between candidates, but I think we ought not construct illusions about the sort of people we elect to public office. = = =

    In terms of their actions once past Kevin Drum’s 25-year-old free pass zone – that is, as adult politicians – there’s a lot of truth to that.

    But this makes the second person out of the last three nominated [1] by the Republicans who exhibited relentlessly cruel and vicious behavior during their childhood and young adulthood. And that’s not counting Romney’s dog torturing incident. That’s a bit of a disturbing coinkidinks.


    [1] I’ll take John McCain at his word that he wasn’t a vicious bully during his high school and college years as he confederate George W Bush was.

    1. What can you expect from a party whose entire platform is based on “I’ve got mine …”?

  11. I’m sure if Brett Bellmore were here he’d be telling us if that poor sap didn’t like getting his hair cut off he was perfectly free to choose another boarding school.

    1. I suppose I would say, assuming it actually happened, that I was a victim of bullying while in school, and given the lack of contusions in the account, would have regarded a hair cut as pleasant break from the usual assaults.

      That said, I do take bullying seriously, and strongly suggest that you start investigating your own candidate’s past if you actually care about it. It’s not like he’s going to go out of his way to inform you if he’s got anything like this in his own past, and Romney seems to have better things to campaign on, like the last four years.

      Or you could just decide that ignorance is bliss…

      1. Golly, if only Obama had written a book in which he described the ways in which he drifted and erred in his youth before finding a purpose and a community. Then bottom-feeders of the Right could hype a passage from the book in which he recalls having shoved a girl, ignoring that the girl in question has actually been interviewed on the subject, and does not remember him as a bully; indeed does not remember the incident that Obama felt guilty over a decade or two later.

        In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite of Mitt, who professes not to remember a genuinely vicious act for which multiple participant eyewitnesses have come forth.

        1. “The bottom-feeders of the Right” would be a great phrase if it weren’t almost redundant.

          (And I say this as a libertarian, a non-lefty.)

        2. You’re comparing Obama’s autobiography to a hit piece by Romney’s political opponents, and you think that’s apple to apple? You figure Obama himself has told us all about the worst skeletons in his closet, so there’s no need to probe? Seriously?

          Ok, seriously: There’s a reason why, if you want to bring assault charges, you have to worry about things like getting witnesses who will testify and agree under oath. Trivialities like statutes of limitations. Little things like witnesses having been coached.

          None of which apply to the dirty business of dishing out dirt on candidates.

          I take it as a given that if you want to find dirt on somebody who’s running for President, you can. Whether it’s there or not. The further back you go, the more this is the case.

          THIS is the worst you’ve been able to find/generate against Romney? Tell me, did he penny anybody into their dorm room, too? The guy must be more of a boy scout than I ever imagined, if this is what passes for dirt on him.

          1. Brett, you’re on record not particularly believing Obama is human. No proof, y’see. So perhaps you’ll understand if I don’t take you very seriously on the subject. But by all means, probe away. People have written whole books on the basis of seeking out Obama’s childhood acquaintances; it’s not like nobody’s looked into such questions.

            But at root the whole issue here is one of introspection: by the testimony of multiple eyewitnesses, several of whom have spent decades troubled by their complicity, as a teenager and a young man Mitt Romney was a bully, an entitled jerk, almost a cartoon character. It would have been trivial for him to acknowledge youthful mistakes and say he got better; instead, he disclaimed all recollection, a response that is bad whether it’s true (and therefore sociopathic) or false (and therefore evidence of casual dishonesty). You can accuse Obama of many things, but not of a lack of introspection. As I indicated, Obama’s whole book is about seeking a purpose and a community, seeking to move beyond an aimless and callow youth. Note that last part: Obama makes it very clear that he used illegal drugs and was unkind to others as a teenager, and has tried to become a better person since then. Romney could easily have presented his own version this extremely commonplace sort of narrative – but he clearly doesn’t have one.

            You say you want to know what the worst we have on Romney from this saga is. It isn’t that he was an utterly reprehensible young man, though he clearly was. It’s that he doesn’t care. Four people assaulted the young Mr. Bouler with a weapon, an act that could have had serious criminal penalties. Three of them have spent decades trying to figure out how they could be better people than they were on that day, how their own children could be better still. The fourth is Mitt Romney, who by his own testimony has no recollection of the incident but would like anybody he can’t remember offending to believe that he’s sorry for somehow having offended them.

          2. We know, from Obama’s autobiography, that he used to use cocaine. (But

          3. Ah, life with a 3 year old…

            We know from Obama’s autobiography that he used to use cocaine. (But, he says anyway, drew the line at heroin.)

            Where’s the Washington Post’s interview with Obama’s dealer? Accounts from friends of doing lines with him? Their efforts to determine if he’s using cocaine NOW?

            I don’t expect to particularly like candidates for office, they’re not typically nice people. That Romney was not a nice person when he was younger? Color me shocked…

            That Obama was a self-destructive fool? Now, that was something of a revelation.

          4. Mr. Bellmore,
            Did George W. Bush consume alcohol while he was President?


      2. “I was a victim of bullying while in school, and given the lack of contusions in the account, would have regarded a hair cut as pleasant break from the usual assaults.”

        I was a victim of bullying up to high school, and this is an astoundingly callous reaction. Just when I thought I couldn’t lose any more respect for you, Brett.

        1. Yes, yes, I know, the distant past has to be judged by the standards of the moment, context is nothing, whether the conduct would have been considered outrageous at the time is irrelevant. Giving somebody a haircut they don’t want = holding them down and kicking them in the balls, and it’s outrageous to suggest otherwise; There’s only bullying and non-bullying, and no graduations.

          You want to think Romney a monster. You need to think Romney a monster. Therefore you will think Romney a monster. Humanizing him might result in scruples concerning the manner of defeating him…

          1. Brett, this is and remains astoundingly callous nonsense. Being held down and having your hair forcibly cut is assault and battery — if you don’t believe me, try doing it to someone around you, and enjoy the resulting jail sentence. And by the accounts of the on-record eyewitnesses (I know you don’t believe there were any, but that — well, I think site rules prevent me from saying what that means), it was very disturbing, and the victim didn’t come back to school for several days afterwards, and according to one second-hand account it continued to disturb him forty years later.

            Your apparent argument is that this isn’t as bad as some other forms of bullying. That’s just pathetic. Kicking someone in the balls isn’t as bad as beating them to death; is that an excuse for it?

            And this is a refutation of your claim that you take bullying seriously. You don’t, not when it’s done by someone who you would like to be elected President.

  12. I wonder if he’s telling his campaign staff that he can’t remember this episode.

  13. I wonder if his campaign staffers are insisting to their spouses, partners, signif. others that they believe Romney when he says he can’t remember this episode.

  14. Lanny Davis on his time at Yale with George Bush:

    “One of my most vivid memories is this: A few of us were in the common room one night. It was 1965, I believe — my junior year, his sophomore. We were making our usual sarcastic commentaries on those who walked by us. A little nasty perhaps, but always with a touch of humor. On this occasion, however, someone we all believed to be gay walked by, although the word we used in those days was ‘queer.’ Someone, I’m sorry to say, snidely used that word as he walked by.

    George heard it and, most uncharacteristically, snapped: “Shut up.” Then he said, in words I can remember almost verbatim: ‘Why don’t you try walking in his shoes for a while and see how it feels before you make a comment like that?'”

    Mitt Romney makes George W. Bush look pretty damn good, actually.

  15. Brett, we know that you’re a Birther, which makes any statement you make wrong until proven correct. You want to make a statement, post proof – real proof.

    On second thought, not even that.

  16. Where “birther” is defined as anyone who thought the real birthers were entitled to the proof they were wrong.

    1. Oh, give yourself more credit than that. You were much more interesting. You literally went back to Rene Descartes in upholding your Birtherism, insisting that you definitely existed but no external reality could be proven to exist, and so it must therefore be impossible to achieve certainty about the place of Obama’s birth. Maybe he was never born, and it’s all an illusion, as indeed is every commenter at this blog other than yourself.

      1. when i went back and read the discussion at the link i noted with interest that i was still convinced that brett was being a comedian. i have since changed my mind and have decided he actually is the irredeemable troll he appears to be. thanks, warren, for that blast from the past.

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