I did a lot of things in high school that I regret, including being mean to kids who were a little weird in my estimation. I’m ashamed of that behavior and there are still a few people I ought to apologize to. I never physically harmed anyone, and I never committed any kind of assault. It was basically verbal in nature. And I never picked on anyone because of their race or sexual orientation. My problem was just a certain basic level of insecurity. I’m not going to excuse what I did, nor do I want to exaggerate its seriousness, but it’s a quite common phenomenon among high school boys. I was sometimes the victim of such behavior myself. My hope is that I’ve vindicated myself with my behavior over the last twenty-five years. I wouldn’t want to be judged by the person I was at seventeen years of age. So, I don’t want to make too big of a deal out of the story coming out about Romney’s atrocious behavior in high school. It doesn’t speak well of him that he assaulted a kid because he didn’t like his hair-style and was presumably gay. The incident, where he and several other students pinned the kid down and cut his hair, is appalling. But, in itself, this incident from nearly fifty years ago shouldn’t define who Mitt Romney is or say much about what kind of president he would be. What is troubling is Romney’s response to the revelations. Even though the incident is vividly remembered and recounted by five students, Romney says he has no recollection of it.
Romney is now the presumed Republican presidential nominee. In a radio interview Thursday morning, Romney said he didn’t remember the incident but apologized for pranks he helped orchestrate that he said “might have gone too far.”
His campaign spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, said in a statement that “anyone who knows Mitt Romney knows that he doesn’t have a mean-spirited bone in his body. The stories of fifty years ago seem exaggerated and off base and Governor Romney has no memory of participating in these incidents.”
Campaign officials denied a request for an interview with Romney. They also declined to comment further about his years at Cranbrook.
The appropriate response here is genuine remorse. Saying that he doesn’t remember the incident leads to two unpleasant conclusions. Either he is lying, or such incidents were so commonplace that no single incident made much of an impression on Romney. There are five people who have come out to discuss this, four of them on the record. They are still haunted by their participation. And Romney says he doesn’t recall it. He characterizes this assault as a “prank.”
I understand that this is a damaging story and that his campaign wants it to go away as soon as possible. If he says he remembers the incident, he’ll have to talk about it. But some things should not be treated as mere public relations where you do damage control. Romney needs to make things right with the man he assaulted as a child. His victim died in 2004, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make amends.