Once upon a time (1965) at the prestigious all-male Cranbrook School, a teenage Mitt Romney let a “prank” get away from him.
According to independent accounts from five of Romney’s classmates given to the Washington Post, the kid who would be the would-be president was kind of a jerk.
John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.
“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection.
A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
The Romney campaign has denied that the candidate has any recollection of this incident, but Romney did apologize this morning for any past pranks that “might have gone too far.” This would be an example of that.
Accounts of Romney’s youth often focus on his boisterous sense of humor, a characteristic that he’s tried to let loose on the campaign trail to very little success.
“If you should ever by chance be walking down the [Stevens Hall] corridor at 2:00 a.m. and hear rising tones of boisterous, exuberant laughter, you are almost sure to find its source is Mitt Romney,” the [Cranbrook] yearbook reported. “A quiet joke, a panicky laughter and another of the Friedemann-Romney all-night marathon contests has begun.”
But there was more to him than that.
Friedemann and several people closest to Romney in those formative years say there was a sharp edge to him. In an English class, Gary Hummel, who was a closeted gay student at the time, recalled that his efforts to speak out in class were punctuated with Romney shouting, “Atta girl!” In the culture of that time and place, that was not entirely out of the norm. Hummel recalled some teachers using similar language.
So now we can put together an image of the young Romney’s persona. He’s Eddie Haskell, Don Rickles, Joe Kennedy Jr. and Draco Malfoy all rolled into one perfectly groomed scumbag.
I get that what Romney did 50 years ago isn’t indicative of what he could do as president, and that it doesn’t say much about his personality today. Young Mitt was a product of his time. But Romney’s attitude toward his youth is pretty revealing. In the radio interview he gave today, Romney didn’t deny that the bullying occurred.
“I don’t remember that incident,” Romney said, laughing. “I certainly don’t believe that I thought the fellow was homosexual. That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s, so that was not the case.”
Asked specifically about having interrupted a closeted gay student in English class, Gary Hummel, by shouting, “Atta girl!” Romney said, “I really can’t remember that.”
“I don’t remember” is a defense as old as time, but Romney’s “gee whiz” response is impossibly irritating.
Well golly, back then homosexuals were just something you saw in the pictures! We were just kids who didn’t know any better.
Dude, shut up. You didn’t grow up in a sitcom. You knew what you were doing.