If you haven't heard, there's a story circulating about Mitt Romney allegedly tackling and forcefully trimming the hair of a gay classmate. Several people involved — both Democrats and Republicans — independently corroborated the story. The incident is one of the harder-edged acts amid a long recollection of Romney's prankster days at the prestigious Cranbrook School in Michigan.
This revelation is hardly going to make or break Romney for me; he has no chance of earning my vote anyway. If he did, this wouldn't have necessarily disqualified him. Not if he'd own up to the incident, apologize for it and explain with sincerity how one can learn from the mistakes of the past.
But, nope. He's claiming amnesia. OK. It's plausible. Who remembers every little thing they did while in school 50 years ago? Especially since, as one of Mitt's accomplices recalled, things happened so fast. (GOP apologists are seizing upon this, as if the fact that the whole school doesn't recall the attack means it didn't happen. No, the sudden, momentary bullying of a gay student by a few guys in a homophobic culture can't be substantiated merely by everyone involved, can it? Everyone has to have surely heard about it and talked about openly in the decades since. And if they're only finding out about it now and are outraged, they're phony. After all, Mitt would never do that! Such a nice boy! Because that's never been the plot of many, many movies. (Nice try, Zombie Breitbart.) Fie on those bringing up a true story at a relevant time! They're the real haters here. Take notice, kid who shoved me into the urinal in 6th grade: if you run for president, you've got it in the bag. Who'll believe the liberal who waited until the campaign to go national with his piss-soaked underwear?)
Sorry, that got way off track.
Romney could have handled this mess in many ways. The most obvious course would have been to acknowledge it, own it and offer it up as a teachable lesson on the need for human compassion and redemption. We all do things in our lives that we regret and that don't paint us in a flattering light. It would help Mitt seem more human, which never hurts. Option two would be to double down, dismiss it as a harmless prank and placate the homophobic voters he's forced to court. That's a shady option, but hardly an unprecedented one in politics.
But instead, Mitt is claiming he doesn't remember that incident, and offered a blanket apology. OK. That's stupid for a lot of reasons: 1) it's such a specifically verified incident that it's hard to imagine the article wouldn't have at least jogged his memory — unless maybe such haircuts happened all the time, a different problem entirely; 2) few of the many pranks outlined in the original article warrant a retroactive apology of this magnitude; 3) he already has a reputation for being a square, aloof rich guy who has steered clear of consequences throughout his life; and 4) oh, really isn't the best pal to gays to begin with.
With all the buzz about how this story broke just as President Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage, it's easy to forget what a clod Romney was and is being about the issue. I think that would have been crystal clear no matter when the story broke. But more than anything else, it shows what kind of decisions the man who would be president makes — bad ones, followed by bad damage control. That's a stark lesson all by itself.