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The Times
  • Amy Gehrt: Romney should fess up to high school bullying

  • Mitt Romney’s camp has long portrayed him as a humorous high-school prankster. However, disturbing revelations that have come to light sound a lot more like bullying than light-hearted horseplay.

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  • Mitt Romney’s camp has long portrayed him as a humorous high-school prankster. However, disturbing revelations that have come to light sound a lot more like bullying than light-hearted horseplay.
    In a story that broke by the Washington Post, several of Romney’s schoolmates said the presumptive Republican presidential nominee led what can only be called an attack on a fellow student at Michigan’s elite Cranbrook School in 1965.
    According to the accounts from five classmates, including one of Romney’s close friends, an 18-year-old Romney was the scissors-wielding ringleader of a posse who went in search of fellow student John Lauber, tackled him, held him down and cut off his bleached-blond hair — all while the terrified teen screamed for the help that never came.
    “It’s a haunting memory. I think it was for everybody that spoke up about it ... because when you see somebody who is simply different taken down that way and is terrified, and you see that look in their eye, you never forget it. And that was what we all walked away with,” attorney Phillip Maxwell told the Post, describing the posse he was part of as “a pack of dogs.”
    Romney, however, claims not to recall the incident — although he offered a half-hearted apology on Fox News.
    “I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school, and some may have gone too far. And for that I apologize,” he said. 
    Yet, even though he says he doesn’t remember leading an assault on the now-deceased Lauber, Romney somehow was able to recall that he didn’t know Lauber –– or another student he allegedly tormented because of his sexuality –– was gay.  
    Other accounts seem to dispute that, though. The Post reports Lauber was “perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality.”
    “We didn’t know that word in those days ... but there were other words that were used,” Maxwell said. “We weren’t ignorant, we just didn’t use the current names for things.” 
    Even if Romney’s inability to recollect the incident is real –– not some disingenuous attempt to deflect fallout from his cruel actions –– that in itself is pretty damning. How can an event that others are still clearly shaken up by, and one that others can vividly recall, be something so unimportant to this man that he simply forgot about it altogether?
    Yes, people can change, and most of us do things we regret at some point — particularly in our youth. But when we do, we stand up and acknowledge what we did was wrong, and we feel genuine remorse.
    I’d have a lot more respect for Romney if he had dropped the “if I did that, I’m sorry” spiel and fully taken responsibility for his actions. He could have used it as a teaching moment to draw attention to the epidemic of bullying children in this country face today. 
    Page 2 of 2 - According to the National Education Association, 1 in 5 teens reports being bullied at school in the last year. Each day, 160,000 students don’t go to school for fear of bullying. But even staying home doesn’t keep some safe — 42 percent of kids have fallen victim to online bullying.
    The numbers become even more alarming when it comes to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. A nationwide survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network in 2009 found that 9 out of 10 LGBT students had been victims of bullying or harassment. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they had felt unsafe while at school, and 1 in 5 had been physically assaulted. 
    Gay or straight, all too often victims of bullying are too scared to speak up, or their cries for help fall on deaf ears. Suicide is sometimes seen by these students as the only means of escaping the torture, as has been shown by the suicides of several bullied gay teens in recent months. 
    For the victims of bullying, and the loved ones of those lost too soon, bullying is not merely “pranks and hijinks”; it is a life-or-death issue that urgently needs to be addressed.
    If Romney wanted to prove he possessed the kind of leadership necessary to serve as president of the United States, he would have owned up to his past mistakes and used them to start a national conversation about what has been called the “bullying pandemic” sweeping the country. That’s what a true leader would do. 
    City editor Amy Gehrt may be reached agehrt@pekintimes.com.
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