"That's Wrong. Just Look At Him!"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 10 2012 10:43 AM

"That's Wrong. Just Look At Him!"

There's plenty of rich character detail in Jason Horowitz's profile of Mitt Romney, prep schooler. The part that Romney has to deal with now is up at the top.* In 1965, an effeminate student named John Lauber showed up with "bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

“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 teenaged 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.
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Romney was a high school senior; he turned 18 in the spring when this happened. Horowitz has the story cold, and Romney isn't even trying to deny it. Phil Rucker, the Post's Romney beat reporter, has tweeted out the governor's measured response.

Back in high school, I did some dumb things & if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize. I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school and some might have gone too far and for that, I apologize. I certainly don't believe that I thought the fellow was homosexual. That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s.

This slightly alters the image of Romney that biographers had been putting together. In The Real Romney, Boston Globe reporters write that the future governor "emerged as a more serious student and a good looking teen" with "a great head of hair" as he finished at prep school. More "serious" implies "no longer pranking people with scissors." Romney's father George was governor of Michigan in 1965, and he spoke at his son's graduation, a few months after the incident. Horowitz gives us the impression that the scissor prank was swept under the rug completely. Lauber, he writes, "never uttered a word about Mitt Romney or the haircut incident to his sisters."

The story of Romney's temper has only made cartoonish cameos in the presidential campaign. There's been exponentially more attention paid to the Seamus story, for example, than to Alec McGillis's long read on the Romney mood. The Horowitz/Real Romney portrait allows that the candidate grew up and out of this eventually; being an asshole was his version of George W. Bush's drinking, possibly. McGillis's Romney, once he attained his own money and power, acted out in new and exciting ways.

*Okay, before anyone sputters about media bias, remember that the Post assigned David Maraniss to write probing stories about Barack Obama's pre-teen and teen days. And he wrote them, starting off on the journey that would conclude with his Obama bio, out next month. There's just no story of the young Obama hassling a swishy kid.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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