Rather than a perfunctory apology from Romney, the Cranbrook story presented an opportunity for the GOP to confront entrenched "conservative" attitudes that promote anti-gay sentiments.
Romney, according to Digital Journal
, said in interviews on Thursday that he didn't remember cutting off John Lauber's hair, but he apologized for "dumb things" he did in high school and said that sexual orientation was not the reason why he led a charge against Lauber.
According to Digital Journal
, Romney said: "I'll tell you, the thought that that fellow was homosexual was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s, so that was not the case. But as to pranks that were played back then, I don't remember them all, but again, high school days, I did stupid things... And if anyone was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that."
reports that Romney tried to downplay the incident, saying: "But overall, high school years were a long time ago."
Does it matter for his candidacy that Romney bullied a gay student four decades ago?
Romney does not think it matters for his candidacy that he indulged in gay bashing as a high school kid. He said in the addendum to his apology, "high school years were a long time ago."
Romney's supporters agree. Many have argued that what Romney did as a high school kid more than four decades ago is not so important for his candidacy. Some have argued that the incident is not worth talking about because there are more" important things" to talk about, the economy for instance. Someone even seemed to suggest that it shouldn't matter because Obama also "bullied a girl in middle school."
But Michael Cohen, writing in The Guardian
, points out the present relevance of an extreme act of bullying by a presidential candidate almost four decades ago. Cohen said:
"In recent years, Americans have woken up to the horrible impact of bullying, especially on children... a 2009 survey found that 85% of kids who identify as LGBT said they'd been verbally harassed at school, 40% physically harassed, and nearly 20% physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation. Those who suffer such abuse are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and social withdrawal – and are five times more likely than those not bullied to try and take their own lives. Bullying is not something that simply 'toughens up kids,' it wounds them, often deeply."
Cohen also notes Romney's evasiveness when he responded to the allegation. Cohen comments: "That the only person who appears to have no memory of the event is the one running for president of the United States seems more than mere coincidence. That he remembers Lauber well enough to know that he didn't think he was gay – yet has no memory of attacking him – also fails to pass the smell test."
What is more disturbing is the fact that Romney would rather dismiss the issue by offering a perfunctory apology and then saying, in attempt to mitigate the gravity of the incident, "high school years were a long time ago." That statement suggests he thinks that the incident should not matter to his candidacy after more than forty years. Cohen also notes that in Romney's construction of his apology, "There is a disturbing inference that the blame should be placed as much on the sensitive shoulders of those who were hurt and offended, rather than the person who might have been responsible for inflicting pain upon them." The inference is in Romney's emphasis on the words "pranks" and "hijinks" in describing an act a Michigan lawyer who witnessed it described as "assault and battery."
Cohen comments that "What is missing from Romney's non-apology is the recognition that pranks, hijinks, assaults or whatever you want to call them, can leave psychic scars that stay with the victim for years to come."
Romney targeted Lauber because he was gay
Romney's denial that he targeted Lauber because he was gay is contradicted by witness account. According to Matthew Friedman, who witnessed the incident, Romney kept complaining about Lauber, saying: “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” Romney's statement reveals, unambiguously, that Romney's "beef" with Lauber was his effeminate appearance. Lauber's effeminacy was the primary evidence of what he was presumed to be, a gay student. Therefore, for Romney to argue that he did not target Lauber because he was gay is at best a facile argument that ignores the fact that Lauber's effeminate appearance which Romney found offensive was inextricably tied to his gay orientation. What Romney was effectively
objecting to when he protested: “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!" was Lauber's assumed gay orientation as inferred from his effeminate appearance.
Romney may think that the incident was just not another occasion of his numerous childhood "hijinks." But that the incident left a lasting mark on the victim is revealed by one of the perpetrators, David Seed, who, as Cohen
reports, said he accidentally ran into Lauber at O'Hare International Airport, thirty years after the incident, and tried to apologize for not doing more to help his classmate. According to Seed, Lauber, recalling the incident said: "It was horrible." Lauber recounted how frightened he was during the assault and told Seed: "It's something I have thought about a lot since then."
Viewing the incident from Lauber's, rather from Romney's amnesic perspective, the revelation presents a unique opportunity to drive home lessons to the GOP that remains the institutional bastion of official anti-gay attitudes in the U.S.
Rather than a perfunctory apology that seeks to dismiss the issue quickly and move on to more "important matters," the revelation that a GOP presidential candidate and not someone from the lunatic fringe of the right-wing spectrum, had personally assaulted another person because of his sexual orientation, presents an opportunity for the GOP to confront entrenched "conservative" attitudes which promote anti-gay sentiments that fuel victimization and violence against this vulnerable social group.
But it is certain that the GOP and its presumed presidential candidate would let this rare opportunity pass because what this would mean would be Republicans legislating
in favor of gay rights rather than pursuing their avowed commitment of legislating more and more laws against gays.