By Jill Chapin
May 12, 2012
Mitt Romney’s past came out of the proverbial closet involving a fellow student who may have been in one. He couldn’t recall but didn’t deny the mean-spirited description of how he attacked and humiliated a student simply for looking different by pinning him down and cutting what Mitt deemed offensive long hair. Other incidents were recalled by classmates such as publicly embarrassing a boy suspected of being gay by yelling out in class, “atta girl.”
It’s bad enough when you simply witness these things without speaking out; it’s another to be the ringleader. I still have not forgotten how I stood by as a ten year-old when a child was being pushed around at camp. Conflicted with a desire to step in and a simultaneous fear of doing so, I stood paralyzed and did nothing. For quite a while, I was ashamed of myself for being so weak.
And I never forgot it. So it stretches credulity to think that Mr. Romney can’t recall forcefully holding a classmate down and cutting off his hair.
We all do shameful, stupid, hurtful things. Unfortunately, it’s practically a rite of passage when growing up. To the extent that we evolve, show remorse, and act in ways that prove we’ve come a long way from those self-centered, cruel moments that infiltrate most everyone’s younger days, we are able to present a more compassionate and empathetic persona.
But because Mr. Romney remains stubbornly two-dimensional, because nothing in his present or near past indicates a sharp departure from his youthful indiscretions, the public has no choice but to fill in the blanks themselves. When he says he enjoys firing people, that in itself shouldn’t be a reason to cast doubt on his character. But couple that with these high school incidents and people could begin to draw inferences – legitimately or not – between the two. Is he still enjoying a sense of power over the powerless? How would this translate in a Romney administration regarding the poor and the unemployed and those without health insurance?
Romney’s supporters try to paint President Obama with the same brush, describing his youth as filled with days of drinking and drugs. Three significant differences, however, emerge between these two men. One, Obama himself owned up to this in one of his books. Two, that part of his past is not part of his present; even his detractors do not accuse him of abusing drugs or alcohol. But the biggest difference is that what Obama admitted doing was not hurtful, mean, or demeaning to anyone.
We all have flaws and warts – even presidential candidates. That doesn’t eliminate them as capable of being effective presidents. But without a sense of pathos, the part of one’s experience that can elicit compassion from others, Mr. Romney leaves us with an unsettling sense that something is amiss between what he is and what he wants us to believe he is.
Should we infer from Romney’s youth that his not believing in gay marriage has more to do with blind prejudice than with religious conviction? How are we to know when this nugget of new knowledge is thrown into the equation? And what kind of blatant pandering is he indulging in when he says although he doesn’t believe in gay marriage, he thinks it’s fine for unmarried couples of the same sex to adopt a child – out of wedlock. Just what kind of convoluted message is he sending about the sanctity of marriage in a household with children?
Youthful transgressions are embedded in all of us. I have often told my husband that if I had known him in high school, I wouldn’t have wanted to date him, much less marry him. Fortunately, Mr. Chapin’s high school personality bears no resemblance at all to the fair-minded, compassionate guy he has become.
But I’m just not sure I would be able to say the same if I had become Mrs. Romney.