Lesson of a high-school prank

Our view: Romney missed a chance to talk about how his views have evolved

May 12, 2012

If never having done anything stupid or regrettable in high school were a requirement for holding public office, only angels and saints would qualify. Still, it's a bit ironic that Mitt Romney's supporters, some of whom recently were only too happy to criticize President Barack Obama for tasting dog meat as a child in Indonesia, rose up in indignation this week over a published report of an incident from their candidate's past that painted a less-than-stellar picture of the presumptive GOP nominee.

The story, first reported by The Washington Post on Thursday, involved what appears to be an incident of gay-bashing instigated by Mr. Romney when he was a senior at the Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Heights, Mich., in 1965. Mr. Romney later told Fox News that he couldn't recall that specific incident, but he said that if it did happen he is sorry for any pain caused by what he characterized as a high school prank.

It would be unfair to judge Mr. Romney's fitness for the presidency today on the basis of something that happened almost 50 years ago, when he was in high school. Yet given the attention gay rights and schoolyard bullying have received recently, we're disappointed the candidate didn't say more about the issue in his public comments. He could have used the opportunity not just to offer a vague apology but to talk specifically about how his own thoughts on gay rights have evolved over the years, as President Obama recently did.

The Post's reporters were able to track down five of Mr. Romney's former Cranbrook classmates who witnessed the alleged bullying episode, all of whom related essentially the same story. Mr. Romney, they said, seemed particularly upset that year when a relatively new student appeared at the school whose long, bleached-blond locks and shy manner led him and a group of friends to suspect the newcomer was gay. One day, according to these witnesses, Mr. Romney and his friends went looking for the boy, and when they found him they pinned the terrified victim on the ground while Mr. Romney used a pair of scissors to cut off his hair.

If the incident did indeed happen as the Post's sources described it, the behavior was inexcusable, and we can certainly understand why Mr. Romney would prefer to forget it. But confronting an uncomfortable truth might also diminish its impact. There's no evidence that Mr. Romney currently is either a bigot or a bully. If he is a changed man today, that is probably something the public would appreciate hearing about.

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