Like many of you, I read the Mitt Romney-at-Cranbrook story this morning and had it on my mind pretty much all day. It was good food for thought, with so many interesting angles to consider. If I’d been in an old movie, it would have been one of those scenes where an angel sits on one shoulder and a devil on the other, hissing in opposite ears:
Angel: He was in high school. Remember high school? Do YOU want to be judged for something you did in high school?
Devil: Remember Name Redacted? That asshole who stole from your purse and called you names and otherwise made your life a living hell? If he were running for president, don’t you think voters would find that stuff interesting?
Angel: Don’t be ridiculous. Name Redacted was a little punk. He’s probably living in a Florida trailer park. He certainly wasn’t Harvard material. Much less Bain Capital.
And so on. At one point, I forwarded it to my Bridge colleagues, and one replied with a towering rant about triviality in news coverage that made steam come out the vents of my laptop. He made many good points. And yet, I cannot lie: I am a woman, and a frustrated novelist, and I find these stories fascinating. I think of how many American families would sell kidneys to send their children to elite schools like Cranbrook, only to find that, once the parents drive away, they’re as brutal and awful in their own way as the worst gladiator academies in Detroit. I think of young Mitt, who must have cast a very long shadow there as the son of the governor and an ex-automotive CEO — believe me, this is the closest thing to royalty in Michigan — using his position to smirk and lead bathroom jihads against a gay kid who dared to bleach his hair and style it in a way others found offensive.
On the other hand? It was 1965. That’s what gay kids had to put up with then, what many of them still have to put up with. It’s why we had the Stonewall riots and a thousand smaller rebellions, in living rooms and offices and over dinner tables. It’s why gay people have been loudly banging open closet doors for decades now, demanding to be taken seriously and treated with respect. But to ask the people of 1965 to act as though it’s 2012 is as foolish as demanding Christopher Columbus land in Hispaniola with the attitudes of a late-20th-century college president.
For months, I’ve been reading about Romney, from sources around the political spectrum, trying to gather an informed picture of the man. I’m reminded of something Paul Helmke, the former GOP mayor of Fort Wayne, said about Evan Bayh, whom he faced in the U.S. Senate race many years ago. He said you got the impression, talking to Bayh, that if you peeled back the skin of his face, you’d see wires and LEDs blinking inside — that he was more a robot than a human being. This exhaustive piece in Slate tracking his shifting position on abortion is, I fear, the man in a few thousand words: He’ll say anything to get elected.
As it happens, there was a significant event in Romney’s Cranbrook-era past that pertains here, as well — his brother-in-law’s sister died after an illegal abortion in 1963, which along with his own mother’s pragmatic ideas about the subject, appear to have informed Romney’s opinions early on. But today, it’s all about balancing votes on a scale. Who is this man? I wish I knew.
We can’t change what we did 50 years ago, but we do have control over how we talk about it today, and that’s all I’m left with now. Romney gave a weasel apology about “pranks” that “might have gone too far.”
“Back in high school, I did some dumb things, and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that,” Romney said in a live radio interview with Fox News Channel personality Brian Kilmeade. Romney added: “I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school, and some might have gone too far, and for that I apologize.”
Yet another missed opportunity to prove what sort of man he really is. He stood by quietly when he allowed conservative groups to drive out a gay aide a few days ago. He could have made it his Sister Souljah moment, but didn’t. What could he have said today? Maybe this:
“I’ve recently been reminded that I was a bully in high school, and picked on one boy in particular.” (The story mentions another boy, and a teacher as well, but let’s not be petty.) “I wonder how many of us would like to live with the consequences of our high-school behavior for the rest of our lives. While the incident isn’t indelibly imprinted in my memory, others remember a consistent picture of events, and I will take their word I did what they say I did. I’ll only add that 50 years covers a lot of time not just in my life, but in that of the country. I’m sure gay students at Cranbrook today have it a lot easier, and for that I’m grateful. I’m certainly sorry I was part of the problem then. I’d like to be part of the solution now.”
(I just made that up. I’m sure a professional speechwriter could improve it.)
So, bloggage? Sure. Here’s a Laura Lippman column that touches on the theme, tangentially — about how she hated covering politics and looked for the more human angles to bigger stories:
After five years on the news side, I moved to features. Even there, I wasn’t drawn to the more glamorous assignments. Asked — forced — to write about then-Gov. Parris Glendening during his re-election campaign in 1998, I focused almost entirely on his blushing problem. Asked — forced — to cover the mayor’s race in 1999, I observed that mayoral candidate Martin O’Malley had a frat-boy smile; I don’t think he ever smiled in my presence again. I liked interviewing writers, but other famous people left me cold. Too polished, too practiced.
A truly glorious takedown of Jonah Goldberg, pegged to his stupid Pulitzer resume-padding but timeless in its detail:
I just opened “The Tyranny of Cliche” to a random page. It is the start of Chapter 9, “Slippery Slope,” and it begins with quotations from Hume, Lincoln and T.S. Eliot. Then we’re treated to the prose of Mr. Jonah Goldberg, who is here to share his presentation on “slippery slopes.” It reads very much like a high school student’s essay assignment:
Ultimately slippery slope arguments are a mixed bag. They are useful as a way to reinforce good dogma, but they are also used to reinforce bad dogma. Similarly they can scare us away from bad policies and good policies alike. There are good slippery slope arguments and bad ones for good ends and bad ends.
Finally, I leave you with an easy, Facebook-y smile, one of those Buzzfeed things you can pass on to your friends: How to evolve your views on gay marriage.
Happy weekend, all.