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The Apology of an Eighteen-Year-Old

A commentary

Jim Burroway

May 10th, 2012

The Washington Post’s lengthy profile of Gov. Mitt Romney’s years at an exclusive boarding school opened with this explosive revelation:

Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School. Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, he spotted something he thought did not belong at a school where the boys wore ties and carried briefcases. 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.

Laubner himself was deeply affected. One of the five witnesses to that assault ran into him several years later:

“Hey, you’re John Lauber,” (David) Seed recalled saying at the start of a brief conversation. Seed, also among those who witnessed the Romney-led incident, had gone on to a career as a teacher and principal. Now he had something to get off his chest.

“I’m sorry that I didn’t do more to help in the situation,” he said.

Lauber paused, then responded, “It was horrible.” He went on to explain how frightened he was during the incident, and acknowledged to Seed, “It’s something I have thought about a lot since then.”

Lauber died in 2004 of liver cancer.

This revelation opened a huge can of emotional worms for me. But I also had to ask myself how much bearing the actions of someone who was just turning eighteen year old had on a man who today is now sixty-five and running for President? People — a lot of people — do really stupid things when they are in high sch0ol. I don’t know about you, but I’ve done things that I still need to apologize for.

I think we can all understand that. Romney was a first-class douchebag in high school. So are half the boys in high school. It’s serious, but what does it say about him now?  His apology today to Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade  answered that for me:

Back in high school, I did some dumb things, and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that,” Romney said in a live radio interview with Fox News Channel personality Brian Kilmeade. Romney added: “I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school, and some might have gone too far, and for that I apologize.”

Hijinks are what happened on The Patty Duke Show and pranks were the staple of Bewitched. This wasn’t just a “dumb thing,” unless by “dumb thing” he means assault.  This tells me that he hasn’t the slightest clue as to the seriousness of what he did. But what really stuck in my crawl was this:

 “I don’t remember that incident,” Romney said…

I’m afraid I’m going to have to call bullshit on this. The others clearly remembered it and were haunted by it. And let’s be honest. Who wouldn’t remember pinning down another kid with bleached blond hair and taking scissors to his hair while the kid cried and screamed for help?  You’re going to try to tell me he doesn’t remember that?

Of course he does:

“I certainly don’t believe that I thought the fellow was homosexual,” Romney told Kilmeade. “That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s.”

If he didn’t remember the incident, how would he “not believe he thought” — and how’s that for densely-packed weasel words? — that Lauber was a homo?

This makes his whole “to whom it may concern” apology not only weak, but embarrassing to the rest of us who have to hear it. This apology doesn’t sound like it came from a responsible adult who committed an assault and reflected on it for almost five decades afterward. It sound more like an apology from an eighteen year old kid who was dragged to the headmaster’s office after having just been caught leading a sight-impaired teacher into a closed door. And like most apologies from eighteen-year-old kids caught red-handed, it’s weaselly and pathetic.

Comments

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homer
May 10th, 2012 | LINK

It’s possible that he doesn’t remember it- most bullies really don’t give a crap about other people. Nothing Romney has said or done in his life (Bain firings, the dog on the car, underhanded funding of NOM, etc.) suggests to me that he has human compassion.

Bose in St Peter MN
May 10th, 2012 | LINK

Thanks, Jim… well put.

It matters that Romney was 18 at the time, young, but still an adult.

Dharun Ravi also appears to have been 18 when Tyler Clementi died, and his age wasn’t accepted as an excuse for youthful hijinks.

Kith
May 10th, 2012 | LINK

What I honestly find amusing about this apology is it breaks down to, “Yeah I was an [expletive deleted] and may have traumatized the kid, but I didn’t know he was gay so that makes it okay.”

No that doesn’t make it okay. It doesn’t matter if you thought he was gay or not, you where attacking him because he didn’t fit your stereotype and you wanted to punish him for being different. So when you become president I have to ask how do I know you are not going to continue this trend of treating different people lesser then you?

Of course we don’t really have to look hard for the answer because Mitt in his own words have told gay people, they don’t deserve all the rights of marriage. So now that we know about the queers, what about other people different then him how about atheists, Muslims, Catholics, or any other Non-Mormon?

Ivan
May 10th, 2012 | LINK

He was lucky Romney didn’t strap him to the roof of his car.

Ian
May 10th, 2012 | LINK

I’d disagree on the “not believe he thought” thing, he may not remember that particular incident where he was cutting Lauber’s hair, but still remember Lauber as a person.

Moreover, i think we should not be quick at judging him, since this has 3 possible reasons to forget this:

1. God made him forget the incident entirely, even when probed with questions, testimonies by his friends.

2. He lied (as you said)

3. He forgot the incident because he had more haunting memories that his limited brain thinks the former does not deserved to be kept. so who knows what things he had done that is more haunting than this, that allows him to forget this incident?

Timothy Kincaid
May 10th, 2012 | LINK

“That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s.”

Gosh, golly, back in the 60’s we didn’t know about such stuff. We’d never heard of pansies or fruits or sissy boys or homos or nellys. We never ever flapped our hands on the end of our wrists to mock anyone. No sirree, not in the 60’s.

Bullying effeminate quiet boys wasn’t invented until March 14, 1972 at Westlake High School in Ohio by Skip Buffingham who thought he’d invent a new game. So it couldn’t have been because he was gay (Atta Girl!).

Back in the 60’s, well.. golly we just had hijinks and pranks and high spirits. All wholesome good fun.

Priya Lynn
May 10th, 2012 | LINK

Yes, I remember back in the 60’s and my father yelled at my mother because I wasn’t spending enough time with him: “He’s going to turn into a goddamn homosexual”.

Muscat
May 11th, 2012 | LINK

Oh, man, Timothy you are the best! :D

jpeckjr
May 11th, 2012 | LINK

The information about this incident reveals a great deal about Mr. Romney.

At age 18, he was cruel, uncaring, and unreflective about his own life and actions. He had a sense of entitlement. As the son of a prominent man (governor, CEO), he believed he could physically assault another student and suffer no consequences. He was only helping the other student conform to commonly held standards.

Other students and faculty regarded him as charming and pleasant to be around, perhaps even as a leader. Some were just a little afraid of him. They knew he didn’t much like it when he didn’t get his way. He had a mean streak then and he has a mean streak now.

Just like he is today.

Andrew
May 11th, 2012 | LINK

I don’t entirely believe he doesn’t remember it, necessarily, but it’s possible it was just not that far out of his high school behavior. It certainly didn’t impact him the way it did the victim here… it never does. But what’s he going to say? An apology looks like a campaign stunt, and the victim is dead.

I don’t believe that I’m willing to hold this against Romney the candidate. Better if he had done some penance in the past under his own steam, but none the less, people grow up. They change. I’ve many times defended teens in these columns (and have been chastised for it), but honestly, it’s going on 50 years ago.

At my 10th year high school reunion, one of the METCO (inner-city students bussed to the suburbs) approached me. I barely recognized him, but he knew me right away. He double-checked that I was who he thought he was, said “Hey, I remember you… “.

Then he said something totally unexpected. “I used to terrorize the shit out of you in high school. I’m really sorry about that. Can I buy you a beer and introduce you to my girlfriend?”

It was utterly unexpected – I didn’t show up looking for any of those who were SOBs in high school to apologize for anything — I didn’t think I cared anymore. But it made a lasting impression on me. In a way, it made up for anyone else who was horrible during those teenage years and I found myself able to put resentments I didn’t realize I still had behind me.

And it taught me a valuable lesson – even as I had grown up and survived, the bullies had, too. None of us were who we had been, and the most we could do was reconnect and acknowledge that. I don’t know if he knew that his apology mattered much. I didn’t think much of it that night. But 15 years later, it’s one of my most vivid memories of that night, and it frankly anchors my faith in people to grow past their Lord of the Flies years.

People grow up.

This is a non-story. Move on to his present day failings as a man and a politician, and his bad (and discriminatory) policy positions — those actually matter.

Snowman
May 11th, 2012 | LINK

Personally, I hadn’t heard about this before now and frankly it’s the kind of behavior my parents were taught was wrong, and they in turn taught me that it was wrong. My mom is in her 60’s also. Wrong is wrong, period. Part of being a man is being able to admit when you did something wrong.

I know very well what a non-apology type of “apology” from someone who thinks they’re better than you, or “right” in doing whatever wrong they did, or thinks their religion justifies it looks like. I dealt with such things for years. This looks like such a thing.

Late as it is, and even though the victim is no longer with us, bad behavior should still be called out and if he can’t see that he did something wrong…well aren’t these the people who say politicians are supposed to have good morals??

Romney doesn’t have those, at least not by any definition of “good morals” that I ever heard.

Snowman
May 11th, 2012 | LINK

I think it should cost him in some way, after all Obama got his feet held to the fire for a lot of things that *he* did not even do and was not present at(Jeremiah Wright saying “God Damn America, etc.) and some that are logically not even possible for a person *To* do. So Romney being subjected to the court of public opinion for something he physically did that was not right…fair game if you ask me.

Tom
May 11th, 2012 | LINK

As an independent, I probably would have given Obama, despite shakey stewardship, the benefit of the doubt vs Romney. After Romney’s non-apology, he can forget about my vote.

Direct oppression of minorities is a pet peeve of mine. I can’t stand it. And it’s all to frequent in Republicans. Lots of rationalization is employed to gain acceptance of their views, but it’s like wrapping evil in a nice delicious honey bun. I’ll take unrealistic economic Democratic plans over that any day.

Priya Lynn
May 11th, 2012 | LINK

Andrew said “This is a non-story.”.

If Romney had come clean and acknowledged what he had done and said “I’m sorry for doing that” I might agree with you but the issue is his response to it now, not who he was then. The other participants in the incident remember it vividly and were haunted by the wrongness of what they had done. This was a highly significant event and for Romney to claim he doesn’t remember isn’t at all believable especially considering he then went on to say “I know we didn’t think about his orientation.” – how could he know that if he didn’t remember the incident? He couldn’t, he is lying. Particularly troubling is that he laughed about the incident when first asked about it. Instead of saying “I’m sorry for what I did.”, he gave a notpology of “If anyone was hurt I apologize.” intentionally implying its questionable whether or not this happened or he was responsible.

No, Romney hasn’t changed and that’s the issue today. He’s still the same person he was then, entitled, thinking himself superior, getting pleasure out of bullying those he sees as weaker and different, and taking no responsibility for the harm he caused to innocent people.

NoxiousNan
May 11th, 2012 | LINK

What Priya and Snowman said, and I would also note that this is just an example at the begining of a lifetime pattern of cruel and callous behavior.

I appreciate Andrew’s point of view, but I don’t believe it applies here. And kudos, Andrew, for revisiting your past even if you were surprised by the apology. I’ve never gone to a high school reunion and I never will.

Many years ago, at the start of a dear friendship the topic of bullying came up. I told her of my experiences and that made an impression. She said she’d bullied and not thought much about it, but was obviously alarmed by my pain. She expressed a desire to apologize and make sure all was well with those she bullied. I didn’t get even a smidgen of that from Romney. If he truly doesn’t remember, all that means to me is that he had so many instances of bullying people that the details have grown fuzzy.

Andrew
May 12th, 2012 | LINK

Priya – I heard the footage of Romney’s radio interview, and I think I spoke too soon. While the behavior of 50 years ago should be a non-issue, his gross insensitivity today (chuckling?) reveals a hole where there should be empathy. That may well cost him.

Priya Lynn
May 12th, 2012 | LINK

That’s what I was thinking, Andrew.

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