Opinion: Romney's Bully Image Runs Deeper Than 'Haircut' Story

Friday, May 11, 2012 - 05:56 PM

Mitt Romney Republican presidential candidate, and former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney. (Getty)

Could Mitt Romney be the type of person who led a group to physically restrain a classmate and forcibly cut his hair? Are his leadership skills those of a bully? Is he so callous about the damage he has done to others that he can't remember?

I can't pretend to know these answers based on yesterday's Washington Post exposé, though the corroboration by five former peers of different political stripes is troubling. We can't be certain what did or didn't happen decades ago, why and in what context. But unfortunately for Mitt Romney, American voters don't need to be sure of the answers to be vexed by those questions.

And unfortunately for the Republican Party, they have chosen a man whose behavior, demeanor and record makes us believe he could be the bully his old friends described.

First, there is the story itself. Coming on the heels of President Obama's "evolution" toward favoring gay marriage, this throwback to teenage homophobia was particularly sensational. However, the disturbing core of the anecdote isn't just that the boy came out as gay later in life; it's that Romney had no tolerance for someone who was different.

Contrast this story with the increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians in today's culture.  At the same time, we also see the decreasing acceptance of bullying and hazing as normal childhood or adolescent fun — a movement that is pushing anti-bullying laws, sparking national discussions and buoying a documentary called "Bully."

That makes Romney's "haircut" both infamous and familiar. It's the kind of thing that could resonate with many families who are frightened of, and fighting against, emotional and physical abuse among our school-age youth.

When a boy at a prep school has long hair, he may be trying to be different, and he may be ready for some ridicule — but not for abuse. Maybe I wanted to be different when I grew my hair into a ponytail (that I've kept, counter to the fashion advice of many loved ones, for the past two decades). As a teenager, I was called "fag" by rowdy teens on a beach boardwalk; my hair was the target of chanting derision at Fenway Park in my 20s (I was wearing a Yankee hat, so I may have provoked it).

When you do something different, you know that you'll hear comments. But being assaulted for it is beyond the pale of youthful fun.

Americans know that behavior is unacceptable. They are not sure Romney knows the same.

We haven't seen Romney's evolution. His non-apology apology won't reassure voters. His air of privilege isn't helping. His career as a professional business bully feels like part of that same moral code.

It's not that Romney comes off as mean. Rather, it's that he seems callous — like he doesn't understand how his actions impact others. He doesn't see how the things that benefit him — gaining wealth, taking apart businesses or playing a prank to impress his friends — can hurt others. He sees the gains, but has never felt, been concerned by, or apologized for the pains.

There aren't enough surrogates speaking for his compassion, enough beneficiaries noting what policies in business and government lightened their load. So when a story like this breaks, it feels real.

Maybe it's not. But until Romney can put forth a narrative about the compassion of his campaign, the culture of caring embodied in his candidacy, there is only the other story for Americans to consider as they decide what kind of leader they want.


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Comments [11]

If Romney fought a fair fight 1-on-1 about normal boyhood issues, this would be a non-story.

But that wasn't it. Instead, Romney recruited the "cool kids" to abuse a social outcast about his hair style and, presumably, his sexual orientation or something else about gender norms.

Have his bullying tactics or persona changed? They have seemed to. Have his politics or views? Perhaps or perhaps not.

In the end, Romney's non-denial non-apology is more problematic than the bullying. If his acts were childhood misbehavior from 40 years ago, then admit as much, seek understanding and forgiveness, work through remorse and contrition, and move on.

Does Romney lack the capacity for remorse? Perhaps.

May. 16 2012 02:39 PM
Janie from Seattle from Seattle, WA.

I am the same age as Mr.Romney and was bullied by a boy in high school. I never attended reunions because I was afraid to encounter him, and because of the residual pain I'd carried all my life. I didn't realize that I wasn't alone. He had not come to the reunions either and when he finally did he was told that a number of people were not attending the reunions because of the the bullying he had subjected them to. This man did not remember his specific acts of school bullying because he has severe PTSD from injuries received during the Vietnam War... BUT - he was man enough to believe that he had committed those acts of bullying and he called every one of us and humbly apologized... he didn't say 'If I did it' -- he asked forgiveness. I respected him for this and we're friends now. We sat together at our 45th reunion. I absolutely believe Mr. Romney lacks the ability to 'man up' and own up on any level. It's not what you did in 1965, it's how you deal with it TODAY!

By the way... in the 1960s we absolutely knew who the Gay kids were... Girls knew better than anyone... because they were invariably the cute guys and they weren't interested in dating us LOL! I'm sorry... Romney lacks any credibility in this.

May. 14 2012 02:20 PM

Smells like the pungent odor of desperation is wafting from the left or is it just their big pile of "compassion" and "caring" as we approach 16 trillion in debt.
Americans are sadder but wiser than they were in 2008 and the Obama supporters will be the last ones to know that nobody is buying this garbage anymore.

May. 12 2012 04:28 PM
megan1234 from NJ

I cannot worry about the beliefs that Romney may have held about Gays or any people who were different from him 47 years ago. It was a different time. Most of us have come a long way from then. However the mean spirited actions,the bullying, that he allegedly did are of more concern. They point to the kind of person he was and perhaps is. That he could call chasing and holding a person down and cutting hair off "hijinks", points to the fact that he really just does not get it.

May. 12 2012 10:55 AM

Come on we know what happened. So, let's not hide behind saying we don't know what happened, feigning objectivity. 5 People said what happened, they participated with Romney. Romney has not once said anything about the "why" the 5 said what they did. Because he cannot..the story is true. Romney has no desire to question what the 5 said...why? ...because he's lying. How obvious is it. He only had 2 defenses to choose from...admit the truth and apologize, or lie and deny.

May. 11 2012 10:21 PM

It's not just the behavior from high school days, it's his response to it now. He still thinks it's a funny, funny, story.

May. 11 2012 09:00 PM
Patty from Tucson, Az

Instead of getting to the root of America's problems like, jobs, debt, the cost of fuel people are talking about something that may or may not have happened. I trust that American's will vote for the person who can turn our economy around and not cause or promote class warfare. I used to be a true Dem now I'm embarrassed of what the Dem's have become. We need to get back on track!!!! Take pride in being American's!!!!! People need to ignore the narrow minded trouble makers. Romney if a fine who knows how to be successful, morale and honest. Unlike our current president who bows to the wrong people and dis's our allies.

May. 11 2012 08:41 PM
muhamed from BFE...

are you serious? do you people promoting this story see how ridiculous you sound? you'll do anything to talk about things that happened 47 years ago, Romney doing pranks as a kid, and social issues because you can’t point to any accomplishments from Obama on the economy, jobs, real estate, and the US debt...those items that Americans are most worried about.

May. 11 2012 08:21 PM

Obama and his liberal friends obviously have nothing substantive with which to go after Romeny, so they dig back 45 years to high school, and treat this hair cut incident as something worse that Ted F Kennedy KILLING A WOMAN (Miss Mary Jo Capeckni) on Martha's Vinyard.

I find it laughable the Post could dig this up on Romeny when they can't do the same to Obama marx.

What about Obama and Rev. Wright?
What about Obama and Bill Ayers?
What about Obama and his Connecticut Social Security number?
What about Obama and his college courses and grades?

May. 11 2012 06:58 PM

I always assume all Republicans are bullies. I mean that's essentially their leadership style. Bully and intimidate until they get their way. The sad part is working class American whites really eat it up. Just look at the comments on any of the cheap New York papers. Always filled with angry uneducated unsuccessful whites posting nasty stuff on any and every story. Ultimately this report could actually help Romney in some of the more impoverished states that tend to have a submissive working class. To them a bully is a leader to be obeyed and they will vote accordingly.

May. 11 2012 06:54 PM
Brandt from Nashville

Romney obviously has a little man complex he’s been trying to make up for all of his life from bullying classmates to his enjoyment of firing people after gutting their companies. His Magic Mormon Underwear can’t protect him from the press but can they make enough cash rain down to win the election? See for yourself the power of these mysterious garments at

May. 11 2012 06:20 PM

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