Not just Joe Scarborough, but people I love and respect have used the fact that teenaged boys do stupid things to dismiss Mitt Romney's reported high school "pranks"as teenage high jinks and the story detailing them as political gamesmanship.
"Remember how the boys at our brothers' high school used to grab other boys by the legs and arms on their birthdays and bounce them on the ground, once for each year of life?" my cousin reminded me. "They could have broken their backs."
I know our politics differ. Back when George W. Bush was first running for president, I didn't talk to this woman I love dearly for several weeks, because I couldn't bear the fact that she was going to vote for Bush for the singular reason that he professed to be pro-life. She is a woman of principle and compassion who practices what she preaches, so I didn't want to argue with her in ways that would drive a wedge between us. I choose to keep my distance for a while and let things be. Four years later, she was still pro life, but had decided it was folly to vote on a single issue, that there was a larger picture that had to be entertained. And when Obama came along, we jumped on that bandwagon together. Indeed we spent so much psychic energy on getting him elected that when it happened, we joked that we had actually willed it.
All that to say, we have our differences, my cousin and I, but find a way to love each other through them. We don't try to convince each other that our way is right, we just agree to disagree. Which is why, yesterday, I wanted to drop the conversation, to step away from the debate I would have engaged in with almost anyone else. Still, her willingness to dismiss Mitt's treatment of that boy bothered me, so I waded in and pointed out other incidents that suggested a troubling lack of empathy, including the one Elizabeth wrote about today, in which Mitt Romney winked at classmates as he beckoned a near-blind teacher into a closed door, then laughed wildly when the teacher walked into it. I also questioned his claim that he didn't remember any of this, and my cousin said, "Well, yes, that not remembering bothered me too."
You should read the article, I suggested. I decided to leave it there. I knew we were verging on territory we have tacitly agreed to avoid. But later, my husband explained why her argument about the boys bouncing each other on birthdays didn't seem like the right analogy to me even though I hadn't analyzed it in the moment. He said, "The difference is they did that with all the boys. No matter how stupid the behavior, they didn't single anyone out."
Yes, teenage boys can be dangerously stupid and insensitive. But Mitt Romney seems to have preyed on those he perceived to be weaker than he was. He appeared to have no feeling for anyone not of his privilege or kind. And in a man asking to be president, that's what troubles me most of all.