While I’m an unabashed Obama supporter, I have thought that Romney probably isn’t a bad guy in comparison to the Bush/Cheney team. I’m starting to change my mind. It will be interesting to see what other gems the campaign will dredge up in the next few months. But the story of Romney’s bullying in prep school brought a familiar old feeling of disgust to my gut I remember experiencing when I was in high school. It was senior year, and the entire class had gathered at the beach for our final graduation party. For no explainable reason, the class bully viciously attacked a “weird kid” who happened to be walking on the wrong side of the beach. Everyone stood around in a circle while the creep hurled insults and taunted the kid (who would clearly loose) into a fight, until some of us protested and the level-headed guys intervened to break it up. I remember watching the small skinny kid slink off in humiliation. My heart broke for him.
Now a disturbing portrait of Romney in his youth is emerging. The most egregious incident is the homophobic episode of Romney pinning the “weird” kid down and cutting his hair in front of his laughing classmates. The more troubling details of the story reveal how Romney purposely walked a blind teacher into a glass door – just for laughs. Now I’m rethinking my position on the man. Weeks prior to this latest disclosure I was having a discussion with my 81 year old mother who lives in Massachusetts. “I don’t trust the man” she said matter-of-factly. Mom has always had razor accuracy when judging a person’s character.
I have a twin sister who is deaf, and have spent much of my youth around handicapped and mentally disabled people. As a teen, I babysat for a family friend who had a son with severe Downs Syndrome. Both our families grappled with the pain and difficulty of raising disabled children, and the inevitable social ostracizing that comes as a result of the ignorance. That experience is indelibly woven into my soul. So you’ll understand there is nothing more disgusting to me than a person bullying someone less fortunate than they – especially someone who is disabled. While I realize “guys will be guys” and the fraternity culture in many schools promotes this sort of thing, there is a big difference between good-natured ribbing and true acts of cruelty.
I have noticed there are four kinds of people in life:
- Those who perpetrate cruel acts for a laugh.
- Those who go along with it – amused.
- Those who simply don’t care if it doesn’t affect them.
- And those who have the courage to stand up and say; “hey that’s not right. Cut the Shit.”
I find people who speak out in face of injustice were raised with a sense of compassion, and have empathy because in most cases they have personally experienced some sort of adversity that shaped their character. There is a line between playing a good-spirited practical joke, like the time my brother in-law told my sister to ask their car mechanic to fix the “Gonkulator”, and a purposeful attack meant to demean someone because they are different.
I just finished reading the Vanity Fair article about the new Obama biography that explores the relationship with former college girlfriend’s Alex McNear and Genevieve Cook. Instead of a debase tell-all book, what emerges is a story of a thoughtful young man in his 20’s obsessed with finding his place in life; caught between two races and two directions. Instead of playing practical jokes, he focused his time writing, reading, running and pondering the meaning of life. Obama could have pursued wealth, as he was heavily pursued by the New York financial world. Instead, he chose the path of community organizer at half the pay, to follow his dream of making a difference in the world. McNear muses; “He (Obama) really worked his way through an idea or question, turned it over, looked at it from all sides and then came to precise and elegant conclusion.” There are many excerpts from letters Obama wrote, and you can’t help coming away with a deep admiration for the man he purposefully meant to become.
Today the media is afire with discussion around the Romney bullying issue. The one theme that has emerged is how Romney missed an opportunity to courageously stand up, admit his wrong doing, and start a national dialogue against bullying, while at the same time demonstrating his growth as a person. Instead he lied about remembering, and made a halfhearted apology for “some pranks that might have gone too far.” My Mom is right, this guy is a jerk and not to be trusted. Another famously correct Mom assertion; “You lay down with dogs you get up with flees…” Remember that when you enter the voting booth in November.
Yes, your behavior in youth is a reflection of the person you will become. Certainly we all make mistakes when we are young. Luckily most of us learn from these mistakes, and utilize them to learn and progress into adulthood a better person. Often we use these mistakes as teaching moments for other young people. But that only happens if you possess the honesty, integrity and self-confidence to admit and confront your past offenses.
In November we will face the choice between two men with very different backgrounds that have shaped them as adults and leaders. If Obama gets a second term (and I believe he will), I think he will go down as one of our greatest Presidents, perhaps on par with Lincoln.