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Mitt Romney’s Schooldays

The Washington Post invents a narrative.

May 28, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 35 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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Johnson did a crude thing if he bullied Kennedy into killing an animal, but the “emotional truth” told by Manchester is that Johnson and Texas killed Kennedy. Mitt Romney did a cruel and crude thing if he cut off the hair of John Lauber, but the “emotional truth” told by the Washington Post is that he and Cranbrook hunted down Lauber because he was a non-conformist and/or homosexual, and ruined his life. But nothing else in Romney’s life suggests he’s a sadist or homophobe; rather the opposite.

Michael Barone, whose own time at Cranbrook overlapped with Romney’s, remembers a school tolerant of eccentricity, respectful of intellect, and open to diversity. He also says the interpretation of the event is “anachronistic,” as long hair at the time was connected to the Beach Boys and the Beatles, to surfers and rock stars, not sexual preference. “Hair length was a big issue in the 1960s,” he tells us. “Men of the World War II generation, who had memories of military short haircuts, took umbrage when teenagers let their hair grow, and fathers would badger their sons to get haircuts.” Lauber didn’t become a millionaire and a governor, but neither do most of us. He did study dressage in England, tour with the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions, work as a chef on a freighter, and later as a cook for civilian contractors in war-torn Bosnia and Iraq. Iraq and Bosnia were no places for wusses, and the job that he did there was surely important. No wonder his sisters said that the facts in the story were not correct and that “If he were still alive today, he would be furious.”

Nonetheless, the Post’s account is a donation-in-kind to the campaign of Obama, allowing the Democrats to weave together the newly discovered concern over bullying to the less newly discovered cause of gay equality and present them in a neat bundle to concerned suburban women, or some other niche group du jour. That the story exactly coincided with the president’s “evolution” on gay marriage set it up even better, though in retrospect this might not have been such a wholly good thing. People have noted that most of the witnesses to the rape of the locks seem to be Democrats, but here, too, opinions diverge. According to ABC News, Phillip Maxwell, one of the four boys who helped pin down Lauber, found the whole thing horrific: “When you see somebody who is simply different taken down that way .  .  . and you see that look in their eye, you never forget it,” he said. His brother Peter, who was also at Cranbrook, says that his brother likes to “expound” upon matters, and finds this reaction extreme. Romney “was the kind of guy who would go out of his way to help people, and for him to be characterized as a bully would be the farthest thing from the truth.” He said to his brother, “Come on, what really was it?” and his brother replied, “The kid had long hair, and it wasn’t really what people were into at that time.” Peter responded, “Let’s look at it that way. Let’s not make it into a national media event for an incident that happened in 1965.”

The victim’s survivors would seem to agree: “The family of John Lauber is releasing a statement saying the portrait of John is factually incorrect and we are aggrieved that he would be used to further a political agenda” has been their last word on it all. 

The problem with “emotional truth” is that emotions vary from person to person, and are frequently colored by politics. Perhaps newspapers should simply stay with the facts.

Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and a columnist for the Washington Examiner.

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