May 14, 2012
Romney’s Weasel Problem
By TIMOTHY EGAN
You can wince at the cruelty of adolescence, as many did, after reading the Washington Post account of how a teenage Mitt Romney led a gang of prep school buddies to attack another boy. “Senseless,” “vicious” and “stupid” were the words used by witnesses quoted by name in the piece.
But to hold the 65-year-old presumptive Republican nominee for president accountable for what he may have done as a mean-spirited teenager is unfair. Because he acted like a bully then no more makes Romney a bully now than does that fact that young Barack Obama tried “maybe a little blow” make him a coke-head.
Yearbook photo of Mitt Romney.
More troubling is Romney’s continued inability to honestly face up to his own life story and those inconvenient truths that interfere with the ideas of the vocal right-wing of the party whose standard he will soon bear.
On multiple occasions over the last year, Romney has shown a tendency to dodge, weave, parse or deny in such a way that it outweighs the original offense. It’s his weasel problem, a real character flaw.
On the bully attack of the boy with the bleached-blond hair, Romney issued a standard political non-apology, chuckling at first, saying he couldn’t remember what he called “high jinks,” but also not denying the incident.
Asked to clarify, he went into weasel mode. “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 I’m sorry for it,” he said on Fox News Radio, the corporate couch for Republicans who need a reassuring hug in a bad moment.
Still, Romney said he could remember one thing: the boy, John Lauber, who was pinned down and had his hair cut by force, was certainly not considered a homosexual, no sir. Not in those days. “That was the furthest thing from my mind back in the 1960s,” Romney said, in elaborating with Fox.
This is where it gets maddening. First, his explanation is not credible. One of the witnesses, Phillip Maxwell, said to the Times, “Certainly, for the other people that were involved, nobody has forgotten.” Second, what Romney seems to be implying — that bullying of effeminate-seeming boys didn’t happen in prep schools in the 1960s — is preposterous.
Romney could have just owned up to the takedown of the kid, as the other assailants did, and said he has grown as a man. He could use this episode to tell a version of his own story: how an annoying little rich kid became a thoughtful leader who wants to be inclusive. Or he could have used it as another way to explain the positive influence of his wife on him as he matured.
On same-sex marriage, Romney has shown a similar kind of willful amnesia. Over the weekend, Romney assured his commencement audience at Liberty University that marriage has long been, and will always be defined as “a relationship between one man and one woman.”
Except, in the case of his great-grandfather Miles P. Romney, whose idea of marriage was between one man and five women. Or his great-great grandfather Parley Pratt, one man who married twelve women.
Call them sexual outlaws, Biblical originalists, or just guys who liked a renewable supply of young women, but Romney’s not-so-long-ago ancestors were anything but practitioners of the kind of marriage Romney claims has been enshrined since the dawn of civilization.
He could use his background to say that even his own family strayed from the true intent of marriage, and that modern Romneys evolved on the issue, to become the devoted monogamists we see today. But instead, he acts as if polygamy – an audacious experiment that nearly brought the United States to a second Civil War, this one in the West — never existed, in his family or his faith.
We look to leaders to be bold and to go against the grain every now and then. When Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student, “a slut” and “a prostitute” for advocating basic contraceptive health care, the party’s leading demagogue was condemned – in a rare break – by many Republicans. But not by Romney.
Romney said Limbaugh’s slander of the young woman “is not the language I would have used.” The language he did use, then, was weasel-speak.
He refined this trait midway through his political career, as a way to explain his serial flip-flops. On some issues – gay rights or abortion, for example – he can somewhat implausibly say he has changed over time as his thinking has become more in line with that of his party.
But on health care, Romney is in a weasel world all his own. He can’t deny being the intellectual father of Obamacare, after coming up with a fair system in Massachusetts that requires freeloaders to get health insurance so that everyone else won’t have to pay for them.
So he continues to act as though there’s some difference between the two plans. Romneycare works in Massachusetts, in the same way that Obamacare will work for the rest of the nation if given a chance. Romney knows that.
“Massachusetts is a model for getting everybody insured,” he said before that model became public enemy No.1 in Republican eyes.
Romney’s party will not allow him to say that now, so he contorts himself. You can blame the radical makeup of this year’s Republicans for that. But on the character issues, when it comes time to act like a leader with an expansive heart, he wiggles, denies and shrinks.
- Mitt Romney’s Definition Problem (themoderatevoice.com)
- Romney Apologizes After Reports of Bullying Emerge – NYTimes.com (policyabcs.wordpress.com)
- Mitt Romney apologizes after gay bullying incidents in high school revealed (lesliebrodie.wordpress.com)
- Does Mitt Romney’s High School Bullying Matter? (learning.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Teenage Mitt Romney bullied student believed to be gay, schoolmates allege -The Boston Globe (tribuneofthepeople.com)
- Sins of the Past: Is Romney a Bully? (aphilosopher.wordpress.com)
- Doubling Down on the War on Ann Romney (commentarymagazine.com)
- Maher Claims Romney ‘Bullying’ Worse Than Michael Jackson Molestation (newsbusters.org)