As a rule, I’m inclined to disregard entirely what politicians did as children. I don’t care what candidates ate when they were six, or whom they dated, or what their grades were like in junior high. Such trivialities don’t tell us anything important about the individuals or their character.
But the Washington Post’s Jason Horowitz reports today on a story from Mitt Romney’s past that seems a little harder to dismiss out of hand. The article notes an incident from 1965 at a prestigious prep school, where Romney was an 18-year-old senior who had a problem with a classmate.
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. Mitt, the teenaged son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.
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 incident, the Post noted, was “recalled similarly by five students, who gave their accounts independently of one another.” One described Lauber as “terrified” at the time. Another said of the incident, “It was vicious.”
I admit to being torn over the relevance of this. It was nearly a half-century ago, after all. The statute of limitations on this kind of assault has long since passed, and arguably the political relevance has passed, too. I suspect nearly all of us can recall events from our high school years we wish we’d handled differently.
On the other hand, Romney was 18 – old enough to vote, old enough to serve in the military, and old enough to know not to attack a vulnerable teenager unprovoked – and instead of owning up to the incident and expressing regret, the way the other witnesses did, the candidate now says he has no recollection of the assault that traumatized a bullied kid.
So, I thought I’d open this up to some discussion. Does a story like this matter? Should it? Is this likely to quickly fade away as a youthful indiscretion, or will Romney be pressed for an explanation?
Update: Hoping to nip the story in the bud, Romney responded to the story this morning, telling Fox’s Brian Kilmeade, “Back in high school, I did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that.”