Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Is The Dumbo Candidate For POTUS A "Bad Seed"?

When he was in the first grade, this blogger was terrified by two boys (the elder was the uncle of the younger; cue the dueling banjos from "Deliverance"). For some reason, the two biggest boys in the lower three grades of the elementary school snarled that they were going to "get" this blogger after school. At the close of the school day, this blogger looked behind and saw the two bullies running after him.

[x YouTube/CalebHudnall Channel]
Yakety Sax (1963)
By Homer Louis "Boots" Randolph III

The pursuers were bigger (and slower) and this blogger evaded them by running up one alley and down another. When he finally arrived home, his mother's family asked why he was so late. When the blogger recounted his evasive strategy, his uncle and grandfather laughed uproariously at the blogger's craven admission. If this was (fair & balanced) humiliation, so be it.

[x Esquire]
A Bully Never Forgets. Unless That Bully Is Mitt Romney.
By Tom Junod

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I was a bully in fifth and sixth grade. I wasn't one of the bullies — I wasn't strong or dominant enough to be one of the kids who bullied everyone in equal measure. I was a bully, in that I bullied a kid, whose name I won't mention here. My bullying was selective and personal. I was vulnerable, and so when I found someone more vulnerable than I was, I went after him with a directed fury. I didn't hate him; but I hated the idea of him, which amounted to his very existence. I punished his weakness as a way of punishing my own. That I wasn't articulate enough to poison myself with elaborate self-justification doesn't mean that I didn't try: clearly, my bullying was meant as a corrective of some kind, for both myself and my victim. He was weak and I was strong (though it's more psychologically accurate to say that I was strong as long as he was weak) and I took it upon myself to make a man of him. It was an infernal and infernally extended mission, but it succeeded to this degree: When I called him ten years ago for an article I was writing on bullying, he said, “I've had to overcome a lot of obstacles in my life, and you're one of them. Please don't call me again.”

It was a formative experience, then, for both me and him. For him, a trial by fire, administered from the outside, as the world's vengeance upon his innocence; for me, because I was not the innocent but rather the offender, a trial of a different kind altogether. He'll never forget me, and neither will I — that is, I'll never forget him but I'll also never forget myself and what I did to him. It is insufficient to say that my experience as a bully haunts me. Rather, my experience as a bully has been fundamental to the creation of my conscience, because it is what prevents me from making the basic human claim that I am a good person. It stands in the way, and so although like all human beings I am powerless to expunge or undo an experience eternal to my past, I can try to remember it, and what it said — what it continues to say — about me. I have a mean streak and I am capable of cruelty. This does not mean that I am necessarily mean and cruel; instead, it means that I have to be vigilant about my capacity for cruelty and the mean bone in my body. It means that I have to subject my motivations to rigorous examination, especially since I am in a business that often rewards cruelty for its own sake.

And so it was with a shock of recognition and then, well, shock, that I heard last week's revelations that Mitt Romney was a prep-school bully. I am not running for president, but I've always known if I ever did run for president — or local dogcatcher, for that matter — the boy I bullied would and should arise as a necessary ghost from my past. And I have always known what I would say: that yes, I was a bully; that I remember each and every attack I originated; that the experience is burned in my memory as it is burned on my conscience, because memory and conscience are intertwined; that although the experience happened long ago, it has become part of me; that I acknowledge it as a way of surmounting it; that I hope I have surmounted it, and that every day I hope and I pray I am not that person, although the only way to avoid being that person is to admit that I am that person, the one capable of doing those things.

But Mitt Romney didn’t say anything like that. Mitt Romney blew the report off. Mitt Romney said that he didn't remember the incidents in question — that he didn’t remember orchestrating an attack on a long-haired classmate, that he didn't remember pinning the boy down and personally taking the scissors to him, that he didn't remember the boy weeping and begging for mercy. Mitt Romney apologized for “whatever pain” his “prank” may have caused. Well, it takes one to know one, as the schoolyard saying goes, and so my first reaction was that the so-called "presumptive Republican candidate for president" is lying — either to us or to himself. He remembers. Of course he remembers. He has to remember, because no one forgets doing something like that, and the ones who do forget....

Which is what led me to my second reaction: What if Mitt Romney is telling the truth? What if he doesn't remember because he thought nothing of it? The language of his statement suggests that he's copping to being a prankster but not a bully — that he's not denying the past but simply saying that the past is a matter of interpretation. But it's not, and as man who has spent the better part of his life silently pleading guilty to the kinds of crimes of which Mitt Romney stands accused, I can only wonder what kind of person I'd be if I tried to beat the rap of conscience on a technicality. I can only wonder what kind of person I'd be if instead of confronting the past I tried to forget it or, worse, tried to say it wasn't really that bad. I can only wonder what kind of person I'd be if the stone of cruelty in my heart was subject not to the slow trickle of conscience but rather to my sense of ambition and entitlement — to those jewelers of the self who, beholding the stone, declared it a gem, precious and hard, of inestimable worth in the bazaars of business and politics, and set it for my presidential ring.

And here’s the thing: I thank God I don't know. Long ago, I made an innocent kid suffer; one of the great gifts of my life is that I suffered in return. Mitt Romney doesn't appear to have suffered at all for the suffering he inflicted; but as one lucky enough to have broken the mean bone in my body and to have worn it in a sling, I can tell him that what he's accused of doing to the boy whose hair and existence was such an affront to him was not a prank; it was a punishment, to both the victim and the perpetrators. The victim almost certainly remembered it to the day he died; the least the perpetrator can do, if only for himself, is to try and do the same. Ω

[Tom Junod has worked as a writer for Esquire magazine since 1997. He has received two National Magazine Awards from the American Society of Magazine Editors. The first award was for a profile of John Britton, an abortion doctor and the second for a profile of a rapist undergoing therapy while enduring what is known as "civil commitment." He is also a ten-time finalist for the award. Junod graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the State University of New York at Albany.]

Copyright © 2012 Hearst Communications, Inc.

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

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