As more is learned about Mitt Romney’s so-called “prank” on a gay class-mate in 1965, on thing is clear. By today’s standards, the former Massachusetts Governor and presumptive GOP nominee for President could have been charged with assault. While the right will assail this as “smoke and mirrors” and an attempt to divert attention from the economy…the reality is…it matters. The WASHINGTON POST reports that Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School.
Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, he spotted something he thought did not belong at a school where the boys wore ties and carried briefcases. John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it. “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenage son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.
A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
The incident was recalled similarly by five students, who gave their accounts independently of one another. Four of them — Friedemann, now a dentist; Phillip Maxwell, a lawyer; Thomas Buford, a retired prosecutor; and David Seed, a retired principal — spoke on the record. Another former student who witnessed the incident asked not to be identified. The men have differing political affiliations, although they mostly lean Democratic. Buford volunteered for Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008. Seed, a registered independent, has served as a Republican county chairman in Michigan. All of them said that politics in no way colored their recollections.
“It happened very quickly, and to this day it troubles me,” said Buford, the school’s wrestling champion, who said he joined Romney in restraining Lauber. Buford subsequently apologized to Lauber, who was “terrified,” he said. “What a senseless, stupid, idiotic thing to do.” “It was a hack job,” recalled Maxwell, a childhood friend of Romney who was in the dorm room when the incident occurred. “It was vicious.” “He was just easy pickin’s,” said Friedemann, then the student prefect, or student authority leader of Stevens Hall, expressing remorse about his failure to stop it.
The incident transpired in a flash, and Friedemann said Romney then led his cheering schoolmates back to his bay-windowed room in Stevens Hall. Friedemann, guilt ridden, made a point of not talking about it with his friend and waited to see what form of discipline would befall Romney at the famously strict institution. Nothing happened. Romney is now the presumed Republican presidential nominee. Teachers were also the butt of Romney’s brand of humor. One venerable English teacher, Carl G. Wonnberger, nicknamed “the Bat” for his diminished eyesight, was known to walk into the trophy case and apologize, step into wastepaper baskets and stare blindly as students slipped out the back of the room to smoke by the open windows. Once, several students remembered the time pranksters propped up the back axle of Wonnberger’s Volkswagen Beetle with two-by-fours and watched, laughing from the windows, as the unwitting teacher slammed the gas pedal with his wheels spinning in the air.
As an underclassman, Romney accompanied Wonnberger and Pierce Getsinger, another student, from the second floor of the main academic building to the library to retrieve a book the two boys needed. According to Getsinger, Romney opened a first set of doors for Wonnberger, but then at the next set, with other students around, he swept his hand forward, bidding the teacher into a closed door. Wonnberger walked right into it and Getsinger said Romney giggled hysterically as the teacher shrugged it off as another of life’s indignities. “I always enjoyed his pranks,” said Stu White, a popular friend of Romney’s who went on to a career as a public school teacher and said he has been “disturbed” by the Lauber incident since hearing about it several weeks ago, before being contacted by The Washington Post. “But I was not the brunt of any of his pranks.”
In later years, after Romney went on a Mormon mission, married and raised five sons, he seemed a different person to some old classmates. “Mitt began to change as a person when he met Ann Davies. He gradually became a more serious person. She was part of the process of him maturing and becoming more of the person he is today,” said Jim Bailey, who was a classmate of Romney’s at Cranbrook and later at Harvard. Phillip Maxwell wishes he had done something to stop it. Maxwell, a Michigan attorney, is still haunted by what he claims he witnessed on the campus of the state’s elite Cranbrook School in 1965: a young Mitt Romney and a group of friends holding down a classmate named John Lauber and cutting off chunks of his long hair. “It was not an event you take a lot of pride in. And it was that way for all of us,” Maxwell told CNN.
“I’m a lawyer. I know what an assault is. This kid was scared. He was terrified. That’s an assault,” Maxwell said. Romney said in an interview with Fox News Radio he does not recall the incident described in the Post article. But the former Massachusetts governor acknowledged he engaged in pranks that “might have gone too far” and apologized for any harm done during his time at Cranbrook. “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. Maxwell told CNN he is disappointed in Romney’s response to the story. “He says he doesn’t remember it and I find it difficult to believe,” Maxwell said in a telephone interview.
“It’s unfortunate that Mitt simply hasn’t owned up to his behavior,” he added. Maxwell, who told ABC News he is a registered independent who has voted for both Democrats and Republicans, said the episode is “relevant” in the campaign as a window into Romney’s character. “I guess you have to take it into account. Are you the kind of person who would stop the abuse of an innocent person?” Maxwell asked. Lauber’s family said they were “aggrieved that John would be used to further a political agenda,” according to a statement obtained by The New York Times.
Late Thursday, the Romney campaign provided statements from other former classmates of the GOP contender. “Mitt was a thoughtful guy with a great sense of humor who cared about his classmates. He had a good perspective on how to balance all the pressures high school students face. He would never go out and do anything mean spirited. Clownish, yes. Never mean,” Richard Moon, one ex-classmate said in the statement furnished by the campaign. “Mitt never had a malicious bone in his body – trying to imply or characterize him as a bully is absurd,” John French, another former classmate, said in another statement released by Romney’s staff. Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said French “wasn’t involved in incident and doesn’t remember it happening.” She did not elaborate on the statement issued by Moon.
For the record, this journalist does not think Mitt Romney is the same punk he was in 1965 anymore than I am the same punk I was in 1978. Is this worthy of discussion and vetting? Sure it is. A presidential candidates character is important but it’s important to keep all of this in perspective. Our candidates are all human beings…all have made some mistakes. I am more interested in where they stand now as opposed to decades ago before they began careers in public service.
My friend Chris Baker is a right-wing radio talk show host in Houston. Some of his views are not much different than mine but some are. I was thinking of Chris this morning as I was reading about Mitt Romney’s stand on gay marriage and whether or not Mitt bullied gays when he was in High School in 1965. Chris would say these issues are smoke and mirrors designed to take our eyes off of the real issues. I don’t agree. Chris is not gay. He has a “trophy wife,” which he brags about regularly and while there is nothing wrong with that (I am happy for Chris) Chris cannot possibly understand what being gay in this country means to those of us who are. Chris was not bullied for being gay. Chris has a trophy wife in the covenant of marriage, he doesn’t face anti-gay discrimination. While “gay” is not an issue for him…it is for us.
I agree with Chris that we have more pressing issues but this issue deserves discussion and it would be nice to hear everyone weigh in it so that we have a picture of where they stand. Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney said he is opposed to civil unions and gay marriage on the same day that President Barack Obama became the first sitting President to back same-sex marriage. “Well, when these issues were raised in my state of Massachusetts, I indicated my view, which is I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender, and I do not favor civil unions if they are identical to marriage other than by name,” the former Massachusetts governor told KDVR-TV. “My view is the domestic partnership benefits, hospital visitation rights, and the like are appropriate but that the others are not.”
Mitt Romney apologized Thursday to classmates he may have offended by “hijinks and pranks during high school” and insisted he didn’t know that some were gay. The Republican presidential candidate issued the apology during a hastily arranged radio interview after The Washington Post reported Thursday that he had held down classmate John Lauber and cut off his bleached blond hair when they were students at a prestigious boarding school in the wealthy Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Mich. The Post suggested Lauber was bullied because he was gay. “The people involved didn’t come out of the closet until years later,” Romney told a Fox News radio show. “I had no idea that this person might have been gay.” “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 added.
The report and Romney’s defense come as his inconsistent record on gay-rights — though iron-clad opposition to gay unions — is coming under scrutiny following President Barack Obama’s embrace of same-sex marriage. He defended some gay rights when he ran for governor of Massachusetts but was a leading voice against gay marriage when courts made it legal in the state. The Post report cites five classmates of Romney’s at Cranbrook School recounting details of Romney’s encounter with Lauber, whose bleached blond hair fell into his face. Romney led a group of boys that tackled Lauber. Romney cut off his hair with scissors as Lauber’s eyes were “filling with tears,” according to the Post. The paper also recounted another incident where Romney shouted “atta girl” at a different student who, years later, came out as gay. Romney was asked about Lauber during the radio interview. “I don’t remember that incident,” he said. “I certainly don’t believe that I thought the fellow was homosexual. That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s.” Lauber is now deceased, the Post said.
Why do all of this matter? Because Romney is on the campaign trail and apt to say anything. So is President Obama but here is the difference ON THIS ISSUE. Obama has passed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and has come out in support in same-sex marriage. Romney is a liar, pandering to the far right. Chris wishes we weren’t talking about this and so do I but we are looking at it through different glasses. The only way to get social issues out of the national political dialogue is to get the government out of our private lives.