Marjorie Cohn writes: Last week, I was invited to speak to 40 high school freshman about human rights. When we discussed the right to be free from torture, I asked the students if they could think of an example of torture. They said, “bullying.” A major problem among teens, bullying can lead to depression, and even suicide. When most people list the qualities they want to see in their President, “bully” is not one of them.
Yet evidence continues to emerge that Mitt Romney is a bully. When he was a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School, Romney orchestrated and played the primary role in forcibly pinning fellow student John Lauber to the ground and clipping the terrified Lauber’s hair. The soft-spoken Lauber, it seemed, had returned from spring break with bleached-blond hair draped over one eye. Romney, infuriated, declared, “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” Lauber eyes filled with tears as he screamed for help. One of the other students in the dorm at the time, said, “It was a hack job . . . It was vicious.”
But instead of owning up to his stupidity and expressing regret at his bullying attack on Lauber, Romney told Fox News that he didn’t remember the incident, although he apologized for his pranks that “might have gone too far.” It’s hard to believe that Romney cannot recall an incident that others who assisted in the attack have regretted for years. Or perhaps there were so many more that he doesn’t recall this one.
Lauber wasn’t the only student Romney harassed. Gary Hummel, a gay student who had not yet come out, says Romney shouted, “Atta girl!” when Hummel spoke out in English class. Once again, Romney claims he doesn’t remember that insult.
In still another high school incident, Romney caused English teacher Carl Wonnberger, who had severe vision problems, to smack into a closed door, after which Romney laughed hysterically.
While these episodes demonstrate cruelty, one might dismiss them as the work of an immature high school prankster. But, unfortunately, Romney’s bullying didn’t end in high school. Romney is now famous for driving to Canada with the family dog caged and strapped to the roof of his car.
Moreover, Romney made a career of bullying when he was head of private equity firm Bain Capital. Bain would invest in companies, load them up with debt, and then sell them for huge profits. The companies often had to lay off workers and sometimes were forced into bankruptcy.
Reading the Washington Post‘s detailed report on Romney’s high school behavior brought back a lot of memories. Though the school I attended for seven years in England was not as prestigious as Cranbrook, it was an example of the type of school on which Romney’s was modeled.
We too wore ties and blazers and carried briefcases, called our teachers “masters” and mostly addressed each other by our family names. The 400-year-old school under the direction of a decorated former Royal Air Force commander was a boot camp for the next generation of commanders of industry. We were being groomed to become leaders and an integral part of that process was being taught how to suffer.
The theory was that those who learn how to suffer stoically would acquire the strength and endurance to meet life’s later challenges. Cold showers, smashed knees on the rugby field, respect for authority in a rigid hierarchy, the suppression of individuality under a rigid code of uniformity — all of these forms of discipline were supposed to mold a boy’s character so that he was ready to assume the position of leadership for which he was destined. And leaders these schools did indeed pump out. (Of course they also produced a few rebels.)
But here’s the catch: it’s hard to learn how to suffer without also learning to be callous. Weakness is treated as an object of scorn and compassion finds no place in this brutal approach to life. How is it possible to learn that ones own pain doesn’t matter without also concluding that the pain of others is similarly of little consequence?
Mitt Romney probably didn’t stand out as a noteworthy bully; more likely he faithfully mirrored the twisted educational philosophy by which he had been shaped.