Friday, May 11, 2012

Mitt Romney’s Mean Streak

by BlueberryT

Ann and Mitt Romney’s attempts to portray the presumptive GOP nominee as a regular guy, someone just like you and me, are always awkward at best – because the truth is that he is not a regular guy, is insensitive to and devoid of compassion for what many Americans are going through, and he is stiff as a board.  We recently saw Mrs. Romney (wearing a $990 blouse), claiming that people who think Mitt is stiff are wrong, and she wants people to know that he  is funny and has a “wild and crazy man inside” – just what we would want in a President, right?  (Watch the video at 0.37 seconds, as she puts her hand on his shoulder, and tell me his body language isn’t the epitome of “stiff.”)  

It would be poetic justice if their transparent attempt to humanize Mitt (admittedly an impossible task) turned out to be what led Washington Post reporter Jason Horowitz to delve into Romney’s past.  Whether it was or not, WaPo’s article has gone viral, putting Romney on the defensive just a day after President Obama’s historic announcement that he supports gay marriage.  The article reveals several disturbing incidents that occurred during Mitt’s teenage years at Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.  (As an aside, Bloomfield Hills is one of the wealthiest towns of its size in America – just the type of place that regular guys go to school, right?)

The most disturbing incident took place when Romney didn’t approve of the long bleached hair of a fellow student described as “soft spoken…perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality.”  (The victim later came out as gay, although Romney denies being aware of that at the time.  Do you believe him?)  According to the accounts of five of his schoolmates, Romney led a “prep school posse” that physically assaulted the student.  Romney and his vigilante friends grabbed the student and pinned him down as he struggled to get away; Romney forcibly cut his hair while he screamed for help.  The victim, John Lauber, was terrified. This was no funny, harmless prank; this was bullying, or perhaps it is now called “severe conservatism.”  It was physical assault meant to intimidate and demean a fellow student whose looks Romney didn’t approve of, pure and simple.  Romney claims not to remember the incident; how many Pinocchios is that worth? Several of the participants are more honest, saying that they are haunted by the incident and would think it would be "seared" in Mitt's memory; they now admit to being ashamed of their role in the attack, which one participant, who was a childhood friend of Romney’s, described as “vicious” and another (quoted in this NY Times article) specifically described as "an assault."  Here is another excellent article on the story from the New Yorker: Mitt Romney, Bully and here is a post from Andrew Sullivan.  

The Romney campaign tried to downplay the story at first, claiming the charges were “exaggerated.”  Then, reeling from increasingly critical press, Romney has now offered a blanket [non]apology (“if anyone was hurt or offended…”) some 47 years after the fact, although he denies that the basis of the attack was homophobia and also claims to not remember the actual incident.  (Those two statements have an inherent contradiction that proves the lie, in my opinion.  Here is a link to a video which ends with Mitt laughing as he says, "I don't remember that incident.")  Unfortunately, the apology was too little, too late for his victim, who died in 2004.  Perhaps he is receiving some belated justice today.

Was it an isolated incident?  Is Mitt really a nice guy who just made a dumb mistake as a teenager?  The WaPo article reports on some of Romney’s positive behaviors, “gumption” and leadership, but also recounts how he thought it was funny to trick a teacher with failing eyesight into walking into doors.  He also called out, “atta girl” when a closeted gay boy spoke in class.  (This would seem to belie his claim that homosexuality was not on his radar screen in 1965.)  Those are not the kind of things nice people do, based on my admittedly unprivileged middle-class upbringing. 

I personally find it very interesting that the perceptions of Romney by those who have known him vary so much.  To me, that is a sign of someone who treats people very differently, depending on whether he wants to be liked by the person or not.  I have known people like that and I don't find them trustworthy.  Although people certainly vary widely in how caring they are to others, I personally put more faith in people who treat everyone with respect.  That is the bottom line.  

Regarding his attitudes toward the LGBT community, his record as Governor of Massachusetts includes a contentious relationship with gay-rights issues and advocates, who describe his actions as “an assault on the LGBT students that the state had set out to protect.”  The Executive Director of MassEquality calls him a “political opportunist willing to score points on the backs of LGBT people – if that’s not the definition of a bully, I don’t know what is.” Most disturbingly, he worked to defund and undermine a commission that had worked for many years to help LGBT youth, who are often subjected to bullying (such as what Romney himself did) and at high risk of suicide. 

Romney is apparently not SO abashed by or concerned about being accused of homophobia, though, because he plans to campaign for a constitutional ban on gay marriage.  Nothing says "equality" like denying rights to one group of American citizens.  Obviously, Romney's trademark is pandering, so we can expect to see more of that until it's time to shake the Etch-a-Sketch.

What else do we know about Mitt, that helps reveal his character?  Well, of course we know that he strapped the family dog, Seamus, on the roof of the car and left him there for a 12-hour trip at highway speeds, even though it was all-too-apparent that the dog was in serious physical distress.  Mitt and Ann would have people believe that the dog loved it up on the car roof, and they actually devote a web page to the family’s love of dogs.  However, Romney is also listed on two registriesof animal abusers, which in my experience is not where you usually find the names of nice people who love dogs.  I love dogs myself, as I know many readers do; it would not even occur to us to strap a dog to the roof of a car.

Do these incidents bear any relevance to Romney’s qualifications to lead the country?  It is perfectly reasonable to look at them in the context of what else we know about him and what this tells us about his character.  We know that Mitt Romney made his fortune by sucking the capital out of businesses, saddling them with unsustainable debt, and laying off their workers.  He actually admits that he likes to fire people.   Is that really the type of temperament that we want or need in the President, especially at a time when so many people have lost their jobs?  

We know he is a political opportunist who summarily dismissed the former Acting Governor in Massachusetts to fulfill his own political ambitions.  We know he was for most everything that he is now against, and he was against most everything that he is now for.  We know he claims credit for things that succeeded, even though he opposed them, and attacks his political opponents for doing things that he once supported.  We know he does not have a very close relationship with the truth.  No, let’s not mince words: he is a world-class liar.  But until this week, I don’t think we fully appreciated what a mean-spirited, even cruel bully Mitt Romney can be. 
Here is an excellent comment on the story by Ruth Marcus at WaPo.  And then there are the inimitable Margaret and Helen with their usual wise and witty commentary, seeing through Mitt's excuses (h/t MrsTBB). 
Update:  Let's give Lawrence O'Donnell The Last Word.  He says that Ann Romney's moment last week, when she tried to humanize Mitt saying he was "funny" and "wild and crazy," was planned because they knew about the WaPo article and wanted to get out in front of the criticism about Mitt's behavior.  Lawrence and his guest, Jonathan Capehart, hit Romney very hard, not only for his bullying behavior but for his failure to take responsibility for it.  
Second Update:  It's not often that the backstory of a newpaper report gets so much coverage; this is a very interesting account of how the WaPo reporter, Jason Horowitz, got the story.

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