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[politics|culture] Romney, bullying, and me - Lakeshore — LiveJournal
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Jay Lake
Date: 2012-05-12 02:54
Subject: [politics|culture] Romney, bullying, and me
Security: Public
Tags:culture, personal, politics
Yesterday, in Link Salad, I posted this:
Romney Apologizes For Bullying In Prep School, Says He Didn't Know Victim Was Gay — I can and do say a lot of negative things about Romney, but I'm not sure very many of us could stand up to being accountable as mature adults for what we did in high school. (Via my Aunt M.)

That stirred some passionate comments on both instances of my blog:

[info]twilight2000: Sorry - but Bullshit. You can argue the average teen shit maybe, but he's being described as a bully and a terror by more than one school mate. You get to be guilty for assaulting kids and terrorizing them.

[info]jere7my: He was also eighteen at the time, and a legal adult. There are a lot of people sitting in jail for things they did at eighteen that weren't half as bad. (Of course, most of them aren't wealthy and white.)

[info]chessdev: Agreed. Additionally, it only took 40 years AND a Presidential campaign for him to see the light... and we should commend his coming forward (when this was going to surface anyway most likely?)

[info]jimvanpelt: Like your other commentors here, I'm less likely to give Romney a pass on this one. As Frank Wu said in his blog today, "Would you want the bully of your sixth grade class elected President?" I'm a firm believer in character change and redemption, so it's entirely possible that he's moved a long way from those days, but, since I already don't like or trust him, I'll keep this story as another data point.

[info]elfs: [Excerpted from a long, thoughtful comment] When people his own staff called to cover for him instead described him as "evil" and prone to "Lord of the Flies moments," no, really, you're looking at a man's character.

Stephen A. Watkins: [Excerpted from a long, thoughtful comment] As someone who was bullied for being wrongly perceived as gay when I was younger… I disagree with the idea that adults oughtn’t be held accountable for the nasty things they do when they are in high school. And his “apology” was a total non-apology.

Cora Buhlert: [Excerpted from a long, thoughtful comment] Pinning a fellow student to the ground to forcibly cut his hair goes way beyond a simply prank – that qualifies as assault IMO. Besides, Romney was 18 at the time, i.e. of an age where he should have known better, and not 12 or 14.

For whatever it's worth, let me establish my own scrap of cultural authority on this question by saying that from a very early age through about age 14, I was the target of some pretty intense and difficult bullying. I was the new kid in school almost every year, exceptionally socially awkward even by the standards of my peer group, had a big mouth, and was almost always literally the slowest, clumsiest kid in the class. I'm not talking about name calling, either. Among many other things, I was forced to drink urine, stripped and stuffed in a trash barrel, battered with school desks and then buried in a mound of them, routinely threatened and robbed of my lunch (or lunch money), and so forth.

This being the 1970s, the most common response from my parents and teachers was, "What did you do to antagonize him?" I cannot remember a single instance of accountability for any of the boys who tortured me, even when their actions were witnessed by adults. At times, I was punished at school as an instigator. Often the bullies were star athletes picking on the slow weak kid, safely cloaked in the athletic privilege that begins to pervade even in upper grade school. There was an attitude that boys will be boys, and I just needed to toughen up and build my character. And besides, I had a big mouth, so I probably had it coming.

So, yeah, bullying is an intensely emotional issue for me, with a lot of triggers.

And quite frankly, I'd be amazed of any of the kids who did that stuff to me even remember it today. The experience of the bully is very different from the experience of the victim. The intense, emotional humiliation of being on the receiving end of that treatment can scar for life. For most of the bullies, it was an amusing way to pass a lunch break or a playground recess. Their actions had no great significance to them. In the battlefields of childhood, bullying is asymmetrical warfare.

What does this story mean? That Mitt Romney is arrogant, entitled and self-involved? That he unthinkingly uses his social power for his own amusement and benefit? I can't believe anyone in America is surprised by this. And for a conservative electorate that values heteronormative masculinity above almost all other traits (c.f. George W. Bush's "flight suit" moment), I suspect this story is validating and comforting. After all, here was candidate Romney in his youth fighting for what's right and putting the wrong people in their place.

All that being said, I still hold to my original comment. How many of us could stand up to being accountable as mature adults for what we did in high school? I have many reasons to oppose Romney's candidacy, rooted in common sense, in patriotism, in my understanding and experience of what Republican governance means to this country. That he was a childhood bully is a feature of Candidate Romney, not a bug. I don't endorse or agree with that, but in the end, how different is his behavior at 18 from his behavior at Bain Capital, or even today? How different is the behavior of the GOP as measured by its platforms and legislation?

This is who he is. This is who the Republican party is, bullying the poor and the gay and women and little brown people the world over. And millions of my fellow Americans approve.

That's the depressing aspect of this story to my way of thinking.

Post A Comment | 14 Comments | | Link

User: heron61
Date: 2012-05-12 10:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is who he is. This is who the Republican party is, bullying the poor and the gay and women and little brown people the world over. And millions of my fellow Americans approve.

Pretty much - I remember a 2000 interview with Shrub where he openly mocked the pleas of someone on death row in Texas for clemency. Now this from Romney. Being a brutal monster seems to be a prerequisite for being the Republican presidential candidate, and these people get 40+% of votes. That's a very sad statement about the US.
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User: shsilver
Date: 2012-05-12 11:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
We all did stupid things when we were young and many of us would be embarrassed if things came to light. I think Mark Evanier summed up my feelings about Romney's explanation that he didn't remember doing the things he was accused of when Evanier said, "I don't care what someone did in high school. But I remember every bad thing I did then and don't believe someone who doesn't remember his."
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User: matt_doyle
Date: 2012-05-12 14:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That's a good summary for me as well. I wasn't a bully, but I'm not the person I was at eighteen -- and that was only a decade ago for me!

I sure remember all the dumb things I did then, however. Romney trying to dodge responsibility for his own past actions seems to be the one thing about him that enver changes.
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User: bemused_leftist
Date: 2012-05-12 18:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
How would you know whether you remember ALL the bad things you did? Unless you had a constant monitor who did remember all the ones you may have forgotten.
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User: amy34
Date: 2012-05-12 14:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I feel it's indicative of Romney's character. Aside from some minor sibling squabbles, I was never cruel as a child, and I've never been cruel as an adult. Now I have two kids of my own, and I see that they're not bullies either. Both of them will hit back if someone takes a swing at them, but they don't start anything, and they don't escalate. And if they do accidental harm, they apologize and make reparations.

I believe that in some cases, bullying is caused by a kid having a bad home environment, and in those cases the kid may improve in adulthood if he gets therapy and improves his situation. But in Romney's case, I think it's just his character. He had no empathy for the less fortunate then, and he has none now.
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Twilight: Daria
User: twilight2000
Date: 2012-05-12 15:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That there are many others who did it only means we need to do better at teaching kids not to do that - that there were adults who allowed your beatings and humiliations only means that we did a lousy job with them as well - and that the rest of us need to re-teach them. That Romney thinks it's OK to say "I don't remember", even if he doesn't remember *that* particular incident, means we need to do a better job of teaching that if you're stronger, you have MORE not LESS responsibility to protect the weak. I can't imagine he doesn't remember that *pattern* of abuse he heaped on other kids even if that specific instance escapes him. And as several have mentioned, he was 18 - still "undeveloped brain", yes - but old enough to have a decent understanding of what he was doing.

I'm one of those who fervently believes that putting kids in adult court "for the heinousness of the crime" is doing no one any favors - they simply can't process in the same way as the adult brain. That said, that kid (we're talking 12-18) *can* process things like "goes away and never comes back" and "hurts so bad I'll do anything to make it go away" - which means they can be taught to understand that it's not OK to do that to anyone *else*. Clearly, Mitt was taught the opposite of that - whether by his general environment, the culture at large or his school, he was taught to abuse his privilege rather than to use it to help others. That the #gop seems to think that's how it should be done, doesn't excuse it.

That Romney's "apology" was a NON-apology? That's easy - we just don't accept it until it's real.

Edited at 2012-05-12 03:57 pm (UTC)
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russ: quo vadis
User: goulo
Date: 2012-05-12 16:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:quo vadis
Sure, I did immature stuff in high school, probably like most people indeed.

But doing immature stuff in high school is not the same as doing cruel bullying stuff in high school.
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User: mcjulie
Date: 2012-05-12 17:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is who he is. This is who the Republican party is, bullying the poor and the gay and women and little brown people the world over. And millions of my fellow Americans approve.

Very true. I won't give Romney a pass on that just for being young -- although if I felt he had sincere remorse I might forgive him -- but I can't be surprised, either that he did it, or that the Republican base is going to think it's no big deal. It might even be a point in his favor.

So, Republicans are always the bully. What we want is Democrats to be the heroes who stand up to the bully. But all too often, they're victims, or even slightly the reluctant hangers-on to the bully's entourage.

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User: inflectionpoint
Date: 2012-05-12 18:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
What bothered me the most was the "non apology" nature of what he said... "if I hurt anyone, I would be sorry."


That's not an apology. An apology starts with, I hurt someone and I am sorry.

His non apology showed me he isn't a man of character. And character matters to me. A person of character owns when they did wrong immediately after becoming aware of it. And apologizes if possible. And then makes amends.

I was bullied continuously and viciously from the age of ten till I graduated high school. And it has scarred me for life.

Yes, I finished college, found work, and found a partner. Yes, I now work in a field and at a level that most of the little monsters I went to school with can't imagine exists. Yes, I moved out of that horrible little town and now live in a cosmopolitan area on the other coast of the country. Yes, I'm now an athlete myself and probably stronger and more fit than any of the "athletes" who tortured me back then.

And I am still scarred in ways I can't begin to list. Because of what they did. And because of what the adults around them let them do. I was sad to learn that the principal of my old high school had died.

I wanted to tell her exactly what I thought of a "Christian" like her who allows torture and promotes it. The bullying and torture and utter lack of moral courage on the part of the administration at multiple religious schools was a powerful part of the reasons that pushed me to leave organized religion.

I don't want to be tortured. I don't want to torture. And belonging to an institution that permits and encourages it is participating in it. So I left. I hope others will too.
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User: bemused_leftist
Date: 2012-05-12 18:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
" how different is his behavior at 18 from his behavior at Bain Capital, or even today? How different is the behavior of the GOP as measured by its platforms and legislation?
This is who he is. This is who the Republican party is, bullying the poor and the gay and women and little brown people the world over."

For many voters, that may be the point. When they see it in schoolyard terms, they will judge it as it deserves.

Jay, I disagree with your overall point. Different people do different bad things as kids. But unless there's some evidence that they've really changed, then the bad things they chose then show us what sort of people they are now, and what they're likely to do on a world scale.

Some kids cheat on tests, some shoplift, some take drugs, etc. But those sorts of character flaws carried into adulthood are not as bad as bullying carried into adulthood.

Obama goofed off as a kid, and he's goofing off now -- but that's not as bad as bullying. (If you want to defend Romney on this issue, you might look for evidence that Obama also did some bullying as a kid. His treatment of Alice Palmer might show a similar character flaw at an older age.)
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User: fledgist
Date: 2012-05-12 22:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Jay, my response to the story of Romney as an 18-year-old bully was simply: bastard! That story triggered so many bad memories that I really could not deal comfortably with it.
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User: anghara
Date: 2012-05-12 22:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I was a a lonely and isolated kid in (all of my various) school(s) but I was lucky enough not to have been ACTIVELY bullied by anybody during those vulnerable years - and had I been, Jay, my own parents would have gone to WAR rather than asked if I had antagonised anybody, so I guess I always had that knowledge to fall back on - but as somebody already said someplace upthread, what Romney is said to have done IS NO LONGER BULLYING. This is active and terrifying assault.

I am reminded of a harrowing scene in a movie called "Ryan's Daughter" - which goes to the method of shaming a woman by holding her down and cutting off her hair, which at that stage in history was supposed to be long in a virtuous lady so a woman with a hacked-up head of hair was not so much going for the gamine look as having a scarlet letter of sorts painted upon what remained of her scalp. This is what Romney and cohort did. They assaulted this kid... they CUT HIS HAIR - hair is an intimate thing, usually touched by people who love you, parents, lovers - because of what Romney felt was some kind of a personal slight, embodied in the way that this other boy chose to wear his hair. It speaks to me of a human being who is full of self-righteousness, intolerance, moral rigidity (my way is the only RIGHT way!), cruelty, and pure malice.

NONE of those particular attributes would I particularly like in a human being of any stripe, let alone one who is angling to gain control of something like the Government of the United States. And it is terrifying to think that we might ALL be in the position of that poor assulted boy soon, if Mitt gets the power into his, er, mitts and starts to run with his own agenda. God help us if we happen to wear our hair in a way he deems inappropriate, or say things he does not approve of, or act in a manner he even just remotely suspects as being antagonistic to him or to his ideas. Woe to us all.
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Rowan aka: The Seticat: fun - darwin-award - mine
User: seticat
Date: 2012-05-12 23:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:fun - darwin-award - mine
Was I a High School bully? Not a chance. Was I a bully period? Well, I mostly likely bullied my littler sister in the way siblings do, but I think I'm safe in saying she gave as good as she got.

Was I bullied? Yes. Frequently and often.

If there had been geeks and nerds in the 50's and 60' those would have been my titles. That right there, and being 'way too smart and imaginative for my own good, got me in a lot of trouble from the 'popular' kids and the 'jock' kids.

If someone from the past came to me today and told me 'You did such and such on such and so date and it really hurt', I would apologize and try to figure out why I even thought it was the right things to do.

Would I write it off as 'High School' pranks and expect a 'Get out of jail free' card'? No way in hell. 10-12 years old is a long way from 16-18 and accountability is just that.

A prank is getting several band members together to push your music teacher's green VW Bug out of his parking spot and replacing it with an identical color green Matchbox VW Bug with the same license plate number painted on it. No hurt. No foul and a lot of hysterics by all.

What Romney did, and encouraged others to do, was assault pure and simple. And if he was able to 'forget' that incident, what else has he managed to 'forget'?

Edited at 2012-05-12 11:14 pm (UTC)
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my patronus is a basilisk
User: jeliza
Date: 2012-05-13 03:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
A comment I thought particularly illuminating -- and infuriating -- comes from this Washington Post article; all the students who participating in the hair-cutting incident with him remembered it, and were disturbed and remorseful. But Romney, the ringleader, doesn't remember? To say that it speaks to his (lack of) character is a massive understatement.
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2012 appearances