Mitt Romney, bully?
After this newspaper chose not to endorse Mitt Romney for the second presidential primary in a row, he told a television news interviewer that we never liked him. It was not entirely accurate (though he could not have known that). In my encounters with Mitt Romney over the last several years, I did develop a liking for him. I found his earnestness and squareness, to use a term often repeated in the national press, endearing.
He was always personable, smiling, friendly, even if the effort was strained or awkward. There was a sense of common decency about him, as though he really was trying very hard to do the right thing. I thought he would make a great next-door neighbor, assuming you could afford to live next door to him.
So the Washington Post story recounting teasing and even bullying by Romney in his high school days seemed really out of character. I never thought Romney was a saint. I'd seen him get impatient with voters on the campaign trail, and of course I thought he often told people what they wanted to hear, not necessarily what he really believed. But holding a kid down and forcibly cutting his hair because he was different? That's bullying, plain and simple.
What it can tell us about the man Mitt Romney is now or how he would act as president, though, is far from clear. It's always dangerous to psychoanalyze politicians from a distance (or anyone else, for that matter). Does it indicate that Romney is cold and cruel, that he lacks basic human empathy? I don't see that it does. A guy who has shown a great deal of compassion and generosity throughout his life cannot be judged cold-hearted based on a few isolated acts of thoughtlessness from his teenage years.
If I were going to try to use the incidents raised in the Post story to form an opinion about Mitt Romney, I would say that they suggest a person who was highly motivated to fit in socially, and who often made (and still makes) mistakes in pursuit of that goal. And that could describe a great many people. Sometimes bullies are not so much cruel as desperate for attention and praise.
Of course, that's a writer's guess, and nothing more.
I generally agree with the Washington Post's liberal blogger Ezra Klein that the story tells us nothing about what kind of president Romney would be. What it does tell us is that teenagers can be stupid and thoughtless and mean (which we already knew) and that the teenage Romney was not the stiff, moralizing caricature of Saturday Night Live sketches, but a real kid struggling to fit in, even if he was the governor's son at an elite prep school.
He wasn't struggling as hard as poor John Lauber, though, and I doubt that Romney doesn't remember the traumatizing incident, as he claimed today. Lauber surely remembered it for the rest of his life. For that, I'll always think a little less of Mitt Romney.