That’s the image that emerged of a high-school-aged Mitt Romney from a Washington Post article this week that recounted allegations of his mean and even violent behavior as a prep school student in Michigan.
And that’s the lead paragraph of Mean Boys, Blow’s New York Times column on the Washington Post blockbuster story on Romney’s time at Cranbrook School, and of even greater importance, Mitt’s response to the story’s assertions.
Blow recounts the facts of Romney’s behavior as listed in the story – the”atta girl” shouted out when a closeted gay student spoke, the walking of the seeing impaired teacher into a door, and of course the assault on John Lauber. He quotes Romney’s response to the story, and then writes:
There is so much wrong with Romney’s response that I hardly know where to start.
But let’s start here: If the haircutting incident happened as described, it’s not a prank or hijinks or even simple bullying. It’s an assault.
Second, honorable men don’t chuckle at cruelty.
There are third, fourth and fifth points as well, the last of which is
Lastly, this would have been an amazing teaching moment about the impact of bullying if Romney had seized it. That is what a real leader would have done. That is what we would expect any adult to do.
Of equal importance, I want to make a comparison of sorts. One of the attacks on Bill Clinton over his behavior with Monica Lewinsky is the question of what kind of example it set for our young people. Whether or not we think the behavior of a man in his 60s when he was in his late teens in relevant to a Presidential campaign, his response when the subject is raised IS relevant, certainly if in no other way than the example a putative President sets for our young people. Mitt Romney apparently does not understand that, or else does not care.
Or as Blow puts it,
While I have real reservations about holding senior citizens to account for what they did as seniors in high school, I have no reservations about expecting presidential candidates to know how to properly address the mistakes they once made.
This is where Romney falls short, once again.
Blow offers much more, and since I am pushing the limits of fair use, I will again suggest you read the column. Let it suffice to say that he finds Romney at his core lacks sincerity and sympathy, seems to lack humanity, and “has an uncanny ability to turn a bad thing into a worse thing by failing to be forthright.”
Let’s explore those three points.
lacks sincerity – that seems obvious from his many flip-flops
lacks sympathy – not only did he laugh (nervously?) when addressing the incident with Lauber, his belittling the rain gear of those attending a Nascar event and his thought that anyone could go borrow tens of thousands from their family shows he does not grasp the reality of the lives of ordinary people
seems to lack humanity – Blow says this in the context of Romney targeting those weaker than himself at Cranbrook. It applies equally at his willingness to sign on to the noxious Ryan budget which does exactly the same to the weakest in American society
failing to be forthright – this is not the first time such words apply to Romney. He has told half-truths about his time as a missionary in France, he has tried to grab sympathy by claiming he knows what it is to be unemployed, and I am sure any regular reader of this site can offer a half-dozen more examples.
Blow ends his column with a simple assertion:
Americans want a president who doesn’t target the weak, but valiantly seeks to protect them.
That is what courage looks like.
At least we can hope that is what Americans want. That is why Americans do not necessarily reject Presidents who come from wealth. Both Roosevelts and Kennedy came from wealth, yet conveyed a sense of concern for those less well off. Remember that Kennedy defeated the self-made poor boy Richard Nixon.
At least most Americans want a President who either understands the reality of their lives – remember the town hall debate in 1992 where Clinton knew the cost of ordinary items – or does not speak in ways that seems either oblivious to their lives or uncaring about the difficulties they face the way Romney so often does.
Anecdotes about past behavior have force in Presidential campaigns when they reinforce preexisting doubts. Mitt Romney seems to think that his life is a model of some sort – and he and his wife chosen to offer anecdotes from a time not very long after the incidents at Cranbrook – remember they had it hard and had to sell some of their stock?
I am not proud of all I did as a school boy. I acknowledge where i was wrong, and attempt to learn from the mistakes I made then as much as I do for the mistakes I make now. If I did not, how could I ask of my students that they take responsibility from their mistakes, and try to learn from them?
Owning up to one’s mistakes can be embarrassing. Acknowledging them publicly can take courage.
America wants a president who has that kind of courage.
That’s the kind of courage it takes to make the hard decision.
Mitt Romney belittled a man who had far more personal courage – and personal integrity – than he has shown when he mocked Jimmy Carter. For more on that I suggest you read Profiles in Courage, the Jimmy Carter Edition, the post I did yesterday on the column of that title by Gerald Rafshoon.
I think the Post story is developing legs, not merely because it fits with much of the behavior we have seen from Romney during the campaign, but also because his response to it has been so awkward. The response is yet another self-inflicted wound.
If you have not already done so, go read Blow’s column. Pass it on. It is absolutely on point about Mitt Romney. Sadly. Because America should be choosing between two men worthy to be President. Sadly, because it seems only the incumbent can meet some of the basic tests not only of what we expect of our political leaders, but what The Gospel expects of any follower of Jesus: that whatever you did or did not do to the least of “these my brothers” you did also unto Jesus himself, whom Christians believe to be the incarnate God.