The Washington Post’s story on Mitt Romney’s prep school days leads with the meatiest, and most disturbing, bit: a pint-sized Mitt leading a “posse” to forcibly restrain and cut the hair of a younger student “perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality.” It goes on to detail several other incidents in which Romney’s sense of humor and love of a practical joke spilled over into cruelty. There’s a bit of obligatory “balance” in there — Andrea Saul saying Romney has no recollection of the events, other students recalling Romney’s positive traits, leadership characteristics, growing sense of seriousness of purpose etc. But there’s no question what the takeaway of this story is meant to — and will — be: Romney is a bully, and an especially cruel one at that.
Forgive the confessional here, but this story coming out now makes it oddly poignant to me. Last weekend I was having dinner with a lifelong friend, and somehow we came to the subject of an incident that occurred at our high school library when we were fourteen or fifteen. I’ll spare the details to protect the innocent (and guilty), but the way he told it, I took the cheapest of cheap shots at him and caused him a not inconsiderable amount of pain, presumably for no other reason than because I thought it would be funny. I’d swear on a stack of Bibles I have no recollection of the event, but I take him at his word, and frankly — sadly — it sounds like something 14-year-old Foster would do.
I don’t spend a lot of time thinking down the rabbit hole of my adolescence. But I haven’t been able to get my friend’s recollection out of my head all week, which I hope at least gives him a sense of delayed vengeance. It reminded me that I spent my youth first getting incessantly picked on — mostly fatso stuff, but also some nerd stuff and poor kid stuff — and then, as soon as I got physically strong and clever enough, returning the favor with gusto. (I recall middle school in rural Florida mostly as a series of fistfights of mixed result.) It wasn’t until sometime later in high school that the question of how to be a Man, much less a Good Man, even occurred to me, and I’m still trying to sort out the answer.
The point is that kids — especially teenage boys — are %#&!s. If we’re to be judged by the people we were at 14, then I’m doomed. I don’t suspect I’m alone, either.
UPDATE: Brother Jim (unintentionally, independently, and obliquely) dings the very sort of post I’ve just written. I think he’s absolutely right actually. Just about all of us were picked on at some point or another, and just about all of us have done something cruel in our younger years. The former doesn’t give us any unique insight, and the latter doesn’t define us as people.