Was Mitt Romney a Schoolyard Bully?

bully(Photo via Thinkstock.)

Yesterday, the Washington Post published a long and detailed account of some teenage pranks and alleged bullying by Mitt Romney. The main focus was a 1965 incident in which Romney, a senior, targeted a new student with long hair:

John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.

“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 teenage 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.

Romney denied remembering that specific event, but issued a blanket apology for “pranks” he had pulled in high school to Fox News Radio: “As to pranks that were played back then, I don’t remember them all. But again, high school days – if I did stupid things, I’m afraid I’ve got to say sorry for it.”

While it’s odd that Romney doesn’t remember that incident, while so many classmates do, I’ll take his apology at face value. As George W. Bush once said, “When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible.” Teenagers do a lot of stupid, cruel things. It doesn’t mean that he hasn’t changed in the ensuing 47 years. (I sure hope he’s changed over that time).

My question is: If this had happened today, would a young Mitt Romney have violated anti-bullying laws? Here’s the Massachusetts statute:

“Bullying”, the repeated use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof, directed at a victim that: (i) causes physical or emotional harm to the victim or damage to the victim’s property; (ii) places the victim in reasonable fear of harm to himself or of damage to his property; (iii) creates a hostile environment at school for the victim; (iv) infringes on the rights of the victim at school; or (v) materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school. For the purposes of this section, bullying shall include cyber-bullying.

I’m no lawyer, but to me, that looks like: Check, check, check, check, and check.