Much has already been written about this piece, which I found via Andrew Sullivan, describing an incident that occurred at Mitt Romney’s highschool in which Mitt and some of his friends assaulted a gay student.
That’s terrible of course, and he deserves to take heat for it, but I don’t think a single incident from decades ago is enough to say Romney is still a gay basher today. Maybe he is, but we need more evidence. At any rate, I think we can draw a lot of conclusions from details in this story, and I want to take this in a bit of a different direction.
Mitt Romney, whose father was Michigan’s governor at the time, attended Cranbrook, an elite boarding school, described like so:
Built in 1927 by George Booth, publisher of the Detroit News, and named after his father’s alma mater in Kent, England, Cranbrook stood out as an architectural gem in the Michigan woods. Modeled on British boarding schools with “forms” instead of grades, “prefects” instead of RAs, “masters” instead of teachers, it also boasted the work of famed Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen. Cranbrook had all the trappings of an elite school where kids walked around like junior executives and, as Tom Elliott, Class of 1966, recalled, learned mantras such as, “Remember who you are, and what you represent.” “If you went to Cranbrook,” said a classmate, Peter “the Bird” Werbel. “You were crème de la crème.” The Romney children walked under arches reading “A Life Without Beauty Is Only Half Lived”; past a field overlooked by Greek-style sculptures where the Detroit Lions practiced; and then a statuette of the school’s symbol, the archer from Book V of Virgil’s “Aeneid,” who “aimed an arrow high.” (In the mug honoring Romney’s Class of 1965, a naked woman replaced the aiming archer.) They looked out of leaded-glass windows in the academic buildings, crossed the spruce-spotted quad lined with modernist fountains and sleek statues of coursing hounds. They studied in reading rooms featuring frescoes and marble friezes. In the chandeliered dining room, students waited on fellow students and sat on straight-backed spindle chairs bearing the school’s insignia of a proud crane. After dinner, they wiped their mouths with cloth napkins.
At such a good school, Mitt was afforded many opportunities for personal development, and indeed he was involved heavily in school activities and organizations that had a lasting effect on him:
He was a member of 11 school organizations, including the Spectator’s Club and the homecoming committee, and started the school’s booster outfit, the Blue Key Club. It was at Cranbrook where he first lived on his own, found his future wife and made his own decisions. One can see the institution’s influence on his demeanor and actions during those years, but also how it helped form the clubbiness and earnestness, the sense of leadership and enthusiasm, apparent in his careers as a businessman and a politician.
I don’t think you need me to point out that city schools in Detroit were perhaps a bit, er, different. But Cranbrook was an elite school for elite people. Poor Mitt, whose father’s company just couldn’t measure up against the companies owned by the other boys’ fathers, was himself bullied:
Romney even came in for teasing because American Motors, the company his father ran, was considered at the bottom rung of the big auto hierarchy, below General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. “Boys in a boys’ school can tease and make fun of almost anything,” said Bailey, a scholarship student and head prefect of the school who described Romney at the time as an awkward adolescent with a penchant for practical jokes. The children of other auto executives would taunt Romney for the Ramblers he and his father drove.
As the governor’s son, though, Mitt Romney did enjoy an elite status, which showed in his attitude towards the other students:
Others noticed a distance between themselves and Romney. “I was a scholarship student and he was the son of the governor,” said Lance Leithauser, now a doctor, who attended the school with his brother, Brad, now a noted poet. “There was a bit of a gulf.” Even a close pal like Friedemann felt that distance; their friendship was confined to the dorms. When Romney left the campus on weekends, he never invited him. “I didn’t quite fit into the social circle. I didn’t have a car when I was 16,” Friedemann said. “I couldn’t go skiing or whatever they did.” Lou Vierling, a scholarship student who boarded at Cranbrook for the 1960 and 1961 academic years, was struck by a question Romney asked them when they first met. “He wanted to know what my father did for a living,” Vierling recalled. “He wanted to know if my mother worked. He wanted to know what town I lived in.” As Vierling explained that his father taught school, that he commuted from east Detroit, he noticed a souring of Romney’s demeanor.
Back to the gay bashing incident that was the impetus for this article, one of the boys involved in the assault later felt guilty about what he had done, and expected Romney to be disciplined for the attack, as Cranbrook was a notoriously strict institution with no tolerance for misbehavior. As it turned out, Romney faced no consequences. In fact, he faced none for any of his other pranks and outbursts as well:
As chairman of a group of faculty members and students who were in charge of discipline, he described a strict school in which offenders could be “dismissed, period.” Snyder could not recall dealing with any transgressions involving Romney. “I wouldn’t expect to see him,” Snyder said of the disciplinary tribunals. “The family was so straight, they don’t do those types of things.”
Romney had nothing to fear from the school, because he belonged to a well connected family who “don’t do those types of things” even though they clearly did. Given the failure of Cranbrook to discipline Romney, one wonders what became of his victim:
After the incident, Lauber seemed to disappear. He returned days later with his shortened hair back to its natural brown. He finished the year, but ultimately left the school before graduation — thrown out for smoking a cigarette.
Ah yes, that makes sense. He was expelled for smoking a cigarette. Assault and a history of pranks, on the other hand, seem to be just fine (provided your father holds the right job).
The picture this all paints, to me, is that Mitt Romney had a very charmed childhood. He got to attend elite schools where he looked down on those less wealthy than he, which indeed seems to be the institutional culture. Likely because of his father’s position, he enjoyed a consequence-free life at the school. He was afforded every opportunity. In short, he had everything handed to him (on a silver platter, by other students). I don’t bring all this up to say that Romney is a bad person for being rich, or anything like that. I simply want to point out that, when you hear Mr. Romney speak on the fact that in America, everyone has equal opportunities, it is simply not true. Romney himself is proof of that. The fact that he doesn’t seem capable of acknowledging his own tremendously good fortune, nor does he seem to understand that not everyone can have that kind of experience, is to me the most damning thing about him. He seems to completely lack any semblance of empathy or compassion to those less fortunate. Romney acts as if he has achieved what he has in life entirely due to his own hard work and diligence. Again, not to belittle those things because he clearly has worked hard, but much of his success is owed to the wealth and opportunity into which he was born. Much of his personal development has been attributed to his time at Cranbrook, an institution that by all rights should have shown him the door long before he graduated, as it expelled others for significantly more minor infractions that those committed by Romney.
Mr. Romney is an obviously successful individual. He should have a little humility, because he did not accomplish it alone. But he seems to expect everyone else to. Are you unemployed? You’re lazy. Poor? You don’t work hard enough. Republican candidate for President? You’re a smart, hard working, virtuous, shining star of capitalism! Congratulations!
When you combine the above with Romney’s advice that struggling students can just borrow thousands from Daddy, or Ann Romney’s statement that the Romneys had to tough it out in college, living only off the income from Mitt’s stock holdings he was given, then you begin to get a very clear picture. The Romneys quite simply live in a different world, and don’t seem to care much for those outside of it. After all, the only thing it takes for you, too, to have all of their success is just a bit of hard work.
But the reality is obviously different. The Inequality of Opportunity matters, a great deal. But Mitt Romney can’t, or won’t, see that.
He really is John Galt.
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