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May 14, 2012
MAY 14, 2012 9:10AM

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Mitt Romney, Circa 1965.

I try to steer clear of politics on this blog. With all the political discussion raging online, I’m afraid all I have to contribute is heat, and not much light.

But the recent revelation that Mitt Romney was a bully in prep school – straddling a gay kid as he hacked off his long blond hair, and in another incident leading a blind man crashing into a door – has opened an old wound. This is a case where “The personal is political.”

First the personal. The same year – 1965 –that Romney was having his fun, I was the victim of bullies on several occasions in my first months at boarding school as a new sophomore. Here’s how I wrote about one incident in my memoir:

One of my first days at school I was looking for a friend from my hometown when I got lost. I wandered down a strange hall. A door flew open and a tall swarthy guy stormed out and ran into me. He glared at me, saying, “Get the fuck off my hall. I don’t ever want to see you here again.”

A few nights later I was awakened by my door slamming open. The swarthy guy headed a gang that leered down at me in bed. How he found out who I was, where I lived, I’ll never know. The guy said, “You stink. We’re giving you a shower.”

“Hey, I take a shower every day…” I didn’t stink. No, this was about that thing I’d heard of, where they hold you under water, alternately scalding and freezing you.

They grabbed me and I flailed like a madman. But five guys were too many. On our way out the door I grabbed my guitar and hugged it to my chest as they hustled me down the hall to the bathroom. My reasoning being that they might harm me but would not risk getting in trouble by wrecking my property.

I was right, because when they got me into the bathroom the leader of the gang fought with me over it: “Give me that guitar, douchebag!”  Something popped in my left shoulder, with a searing pain, and he yanked it away. They dunked me in the water.  To my relief it was only cold.

I didn’t know my shoulder had been permanently damaged. That guy had torn tendons that were still forming. A few years later the shoulder would begin dislocating, and still troubles me.

 Now what Mitt Romney inflicted in cutting off a boy’s hair was arguably milder than what was done to me. That kid’s hair grew back. Then again, I wasn’t gay. I don’t imagine he ever forgot that incident. For my part, I remember that night in the showers every time my shoulder hurts, and three times a week as I do the same boring regimen of exercises to keep it from dislocating again. Behind my physical pain is a terrible feeling – that of having been deemed an outcast.

One of our deepest characteristics as humans is the need to belong to the group. It’s accompanied by a terror of being ostracized from it. That fear is atavistic, and existential. There was a time when being cast from your place around the campfire meant you would die – to starve, or be devoured by wild animals.

Romney’s fellow perpetrators – who unlike him, feel great remorse at the thing he claims not to remember doing –report that he was “incensed” by the gay kid’s long bleached hair. When I recall the face of my attacker, it wasenraged. Bywhat? The fact that I was the new kid in school? That I was the smallest in my dorm? Was it because my pants didn’t quite fit? Or was it that I didn’t own a pair of Bass Weejuns?

In order to comprehend this rage at someone you don’t know, who’s done nothing to you personally, you have to return to that campfire a thousand generations ago. Perhaps it was a matter of the small, the weak, the weird being their own existential threat to the community –bodies that couldn’t pull their weight with mouths no one could afford to feed. In that context that rage makes a kind of sense – a leader putting on a brave and angry face for a group terrified for their own survival.

We don’t live in caves any more. Legions of the small, the weak, the weird – or just new in school –survived bullying. They grew up to become assets to society.

The terrible thing is that atavistic impulses live in the victims of bullying as well as the perpetrators. We feel inside that we deserve it, that we have been rightfully punished for not being proper members of the group.

Gays have seen almost unimaginable  progress since the 60s. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the victims of bullying. In 2003 another prestigious prep school – St. Paul’s –saw an incident in which a student was repeatedly sodomized by a gang wielding a hockey stick. What horrified me was how the parents and the school circled the wagons, defending the culprits, saying it was nothing, just “boys being boys.”  Perhaps they were doing more than covering up a crime. Maybe they believe we as a society still need these rituals of ostrasization.

If Mitt Romney wins the election he will be the second Republican president in a row to have been a bully in his youth – George Bush burned pledges with cigarettes when he headed his college fraternity. And this is no coincidence. There are many voters who in these fearful times want a big guy as president who’s going to lead the charge to cast out everyone who’s not like “us” – the poor, the sick, immigrants, those with pants too short or the wrong shoes.

I honestly don’t care what motivates bullies –whether they’re throwbacks to the caveman,  “boys being boys,” or plain psychopaths. I just want the bullying to stop.

Many outraged by Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky wondered what message it sent to the young. Some think it’s led to an acceptance of oral sex among teeagers.  Maybe it has. It’s not a subject I much care about one way or the other.

I do care about having another president who’s a bully. I imagine all those young bullies out there looking up to President Romney and thinking – Hey, maybe if I cut that kid’s hair off, sodomize that kid with a baseball bat, dislocate a joint or two – really mess someone up – I might make the grade, grow up to be President of the United States!

The choice in November could not be clearer. There’s the man who risked the election by coming out in favor of gay marriage, a major step in welcoming a once shunned group into the circle around the campfire. Then there’s the guy who strapped the family dog to the car roof, who led a blind man into a door, who held down a screaming boy and cut off his hair, just because he was different. Just because he could.




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leaving politics aside….theres another side to bullying i never see discussed…..i got bullied once in school and to my surprise i whupped him fairly easily….from then on got more trouble and fights standing up for others getting it…maybe shoulda lost that first one eh? anyway, you brought out ol memories and in general i agree with you….
Romney’s true colors are coming forth, aren’t they? I am sorry you were bulled at boarding school. It must’ve been especially difficult because you were away from home. I had to laugh at the Bass Weejuns passage, though. I was once taunted for my generic penny loafers at my public high school but just laughed it off telling the girl, “Well, I guess you are cooler than me.”
Profound insights here, Luminous. My brother was bullied as a kid for being too frail or maybe because he seemed weird to the “norms” (we both were/are). Romney has dug his own grave time and again, don’t see any chance of his being elected.
Bullies are frightened people lashing out unconscious of stupidity of their actions. That said, they need to be confronted before they can realize what they are. If they don’t understand and change their behavior, they’re no longer bullies… they are now sociopaths.
First of all, Romney’s problem is remorse. He never learned anything. He never learned any proper restraints. He never learned any sympathy for others. Lots of people bully. Some never regret it.

Second, we do so still live in caves. Look at Teabagger rallies. Look at the violence the Ron Paul delegates will bring to the Republican convention in Tampa; it may be the first time the GOP convention isn’t going to be a coronation. Come down to Sanford, Florida, but please don’t wear a black hoodie.

We still carry clubs. AK-47 clubs.

Excellent excellent post. Thank you for saying it all so clearly. I wish we could have Clinton back.
I was bullied for being weird. Never physically outside of the family, but my older sister beat me up daily at home. And she led a lot of the bullying on the bus, etc.

She keeps saying she’s changed but I have my doubts.

Anyone that cannot remember or recall is as guilty as sin as far as I am concerned.
So sorry to hear about what you went through at school. Bullying is bullying, no matter one’s social pedigree (real or imagined).

Actually, looking at Romney’s hair from that time, someone ought to have pinned him down and pasted hair onto his head.

Contrary to what seems to be popular opinion, it is not possible for bullies to be good leaders. Bullies don’t have the ability to listen, to hear other ideas or to persuade people to do what’s needed to be done. I hadn’t heard about the humiliation of the blind man story, but anyone who is insensitive enough to strap a pet to the top of a moving vehicle is in my opinion a borderline sociopath.

It breaks my heart to read what those idiots did to you in prep school. I have a grand nephew who gets bullied almost daily because he is different. I’m pretty sure he hasn’t reported all the ridicule and physical assaults he has endured, out of shame and because his father is a hothead who might create mayhem.


” Behind my physical pain is a terrible feeling – that of having been deemed an outcast.” yup
Well written! As you said, his lack of compassion is still in evidence, because he says he cannot remember the incident. I remember being insensitive on the school bus when I was 11 years old, and it was a lot less intrusive than Romney’s act. He either remembers and doesn’t care, or he is surely a monster.
Wow, what an ass. A tiger doesn’t change his stripes.
I am glad you shared this here. Romney feigning not remembering (or truly not? even more egregious), people saying “boys will be boys”…inexcusable. You are shining the flashlight on the ugly practice and I feel your righteous heat as well.
Sustained applause, John. This is eloquent and potent.
Bravo. I’ve got extra marshmallows if you want to sit at my campfire.
Bravo. Posting this to my FB page.
Thanks for this. I do think the choice is clear in the upcoming election. The problem is that the hatred that some people have and use as their voter guide still exists and they don’t see him as a bully, they see him as one of them. Bullies all, or ignorant humans and bullies, as always, the best voter is an educated voter, it does help if they are intelligent too.
I loved this and the way in which it was told. Heartfelt and clear, touching and wrenching the whole time it tells a bitterly concise and clearly reasoned line of thought as a companion. This is clearly something worthy of an EP and even though it’s not on the Open Call list anymore, I, too am still wrestling with how to tell my bullied tale, for sadly, mine is a long one and spans nearly seventeen years.

I missed that open call, because I couldn’t figure out how to tell the tale. Your tale and your openness also opens old memories — they are wounds no more, for I have transcended my trial by bullies and have become a pretty nice guy in spite of it. The memories, though, still can cause me a moment’s absurd flash of anger from time to time, especially if something happens to me that reminds me deeply of that. Nothing dramatic, mind you. I may just end up really wanting to leave some place or finding somewhere else in the party to be.

The first really negative thing I heard about Mitt Romney was strapping their pedigree Irish Setter to the roof of the car, because they thought she was getting carsick and didn’t want her to throw up in the car. I cannot fathom the lack of empathy that would allow someone to do that as if it were no big deal. In addition, I have to wonder, what the fuck do they even have a dog for in the first place if that’s how they’re going to treat it? You gotta wonder at those nascent dictatorial and aggressive parenting skills in someone like that.

I have yet to see a Republican candidate that I could reasonably vote for since Huntsman. Before him I don’t know, maybe — nope, no-one else comes to mind these days. While I am not happy with Obama continuing to keep the Patriot Act alive, endorsing the hold as long as we damn well please without charges and warrantless wiretapping issues alone should have been something he’d have straightaway called out.

So I am not happy that he’s done nothing to remove the restraints already put in place on our liberties and seems to have no real concern with putting a further stop to the rather egregious attacks against our civil and legal liberties as well.

That said, I keep hoping more people will just make enough noise that the folks in power will piss themselves in fear of a rebellion and actually do what they’re supposed to — just so they don’t get ambushed. And if rule by fear is what it takes, then it’s them that should be afraid, not us.

You Have a Voice; Use it.
Occupy Your Mind
— rRr —

You can tell a lot about someone (about whole societies, even) by looking at how they treat the most vulnerable within their midst. His track record isn’t good.
I’m so sorry to hear your story. I was bullied in school and later in jobs and over time I realized it had nothing to do with me. I thought they were people who felt bad and took it out on others when in fact, the bully is simply a defective human. Looking for the weak to pounce on is predatory behavior so I call them predators.

People don’t treat you well because of who you are, people treat you well because of who they are. Predators will always prey on anyone weaker than them because that’s who they are.

Romney is simply another remorseless predator, he will not change unless someone stronger or a large group stops him.

The man has a look, behind the look, that is scary. Anyone that smiles all the time is being eaten up inside by something.
Of course bullies/abusers never remember doing these things because they dismiss them as unimportant, much like the person they have caused the pain to. Your point about Obama and his views on gay marriage I took as this; you want a president who finds you important. I do too. Would Romney feel you were important or dismiss you? Dismiss me for not sharing his views?
Luminous, I was here this morning but see my footprint didn’t leave its impression. OS seemed to be having a bad time of things with rates and comments. I see my rate stuck but my words did not. I think I said something like … I haven’t been to the front page yet but I hope this is sitting right at the top where it belongs. I have my own story of bullying which I won’t go into now. People like Romney do not deserve
to be in any position of power. Great post.
I’m going to go with psychopaths because atavism just isn’t an excuse or even an adequate explanation. In both Romney’s and Bush’s cases, these are people who present themselves as elite, as superior, who are granted privilege beyond the comprehension of most of us. (I include your attackers in this just because you all were at a “boarding school” and I attribute some level of privilege for that reason.) For that alone society should be able to expect them to have evolved beyond the cave man level – or at least to have received some training to exercise their entitlement responsibly. … the horse the rode in on ANDtheir parents – all of whom, I will note, used to be counted among the respectable Republicans.
I’ve been of two minds on this issue. My gut reaction was that that was yet another reason to disqualify him from the presidency. I knew guys like that and no way would I have wanted to support them later in life.

On the other hand, in a couple of comments Cranky Cuss has made a strong case that so many years later, other current issues are mote relevant for the decision. I suppose if this kind of bullying incident had been in Clinton’s or JFK’s past, I likely would still have favored them over their opponents.

Sorry to hear about your own case Luminous. It’s a really despicable practice that needs stamping out.

John, your use of this meaningful personal anecdote to illustrate the choices we have in November is really marvelous. A great essay. RRRRRRR
Well said John. I think the fact that Romney “doesn’t remember” is the scary part.
I think what disturbs me most is that Romney thought the question of his being a bully was funny. Perhaps it was just nervous laughter in the face of an unexpected ghost from his youth, but that sent shivers up my spine…Nice post.
I missed this when it first appeared because of my lost internet connection. Better late than never. Excellent.

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