My most recent post discussed an incident from Mitt Romney’s prep school days where he was offended by the hair style of a younger schoolmate. As reported by Jason Horowitz of The Washington Post, when the student, thought to possibly be gay, returned from a vacation with bleached-blond hair hanging over an eye, the offended scion said to a friend, “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him.” He proceeded to gather a group of friends who overcame the younger student while Romney cut the hair of the screaming and crying kid. Romney has said he doesn’t remember the incident even though five of his friends at the time, including participants, have corroborated independently the allegation. He actually laughs about it when questioned.
We are now going to hear the predictable “boys will be boys,” as well as comments that it was a different time and that what happened 50 years ago is not relevant. As a contemporary of Romney, I can attest that, yes, it was different 50 years ago if one means that intolerance of homosexuality was more acceptable back then. What is not different, however, is that a gang assault on a vulnerable individual was just that – and act of cruelty or viciousness that was not excusable because the victim belonged to a disfavored group. If the victim were black, one would not hear the excuse that racism back then was OK.
But is it relevant in terms of what it says about the character of the individual? One detail from the Horowitz piece has not been widely reported. This had to do with what Romney did to a faculty member who was blind. After holding a door open for the teacher, Romney then gestured him through the next set of doors, which Romney had left closed. The teacher walked into the next set of doors and hilarity ensued, unless, of course, you were the victim.
That was still 50 years ago. Is there current relevance? I think there are two areas where details of Romney’s more recent adult past are going to cause him some difficulty along the same lines. One was during his tenure as a stakes bishop in the Boston area Mormon church. While it has been reported that Romney displayed acts of compassion and kindness for members of his flock, The Real Romney, a book by two Boston Globe reporters, also describes less flattering aspects during his leadership. An excerpt from Vanity Fair cites incidents where his behavior towards some women, in the words of the authors, “was the product of a hidebound, patriarchal structure, inflexible and insensitive in delicate situations and dismissive of those who didn’t share his perspective.” Among the named women who were quoted, was an unmarried pregnant woman who believed that Romney, in his capacity as a church leader, threatened her with excommunication if she did not put the baby up for adoption. Romney denies having done this.
The other area of concern is Romney’s Bain Capital experience. He likes to describe himself as a job creator in contrast to the “incompetent” Obama, and there is no question that jobs were created in some of his investments. But creating jobs was not his goal. His goal was making money for his investors, not that there is anything wrong with that. If jobs were created, however, that would be incidental to his mission. If jobs were lost in order to return millions of dollars to his investors, as many assuredly were, well that is an unfortunate part of our system of capitalism.
I do not think we have heard the last of either of these topics, and the image of a joyful Romney pinning down a helpless kid will be in the back of many minds.