Bullying is not presidential

When I was in grade school,  I passed under a Grand Trunk Railroad viaduct every day.  This landmark meant I had covered 11 blocks and was home stretching.  I could see my house as I emerged from its concrete arches.  The gray walls that supported the trains were often embellished with chalked or painted evidence of young romances or rage. It was not the tagging era, but kids use the canvas they are presented.

One day as I scanned the walls for new angst, I spotted "Janet Joliat is a pirate's treasure - a sunken chest."  Although I was alone, I immediately felt the scorched pain and humiliation that this message was intended to deliver....to me.  What girl, in seventh or eighth grade has the self image to laugh at that moment? Not this girl.

The offenders were cool kids.  I was not.  Two of these boys were lolling on a neighbor's front lawn, hoping to calibrate and celebrate my despair.  I just put my head up and went home. It was better to pretend  that I was oblivious than to present them with kindling for their celebratory bonfire.

Later that evening, my brothers obscured it. But I never forgot the words- which were ridiculous (though true enough).  More than that, I spent a lot of time trying to unravel the "why" of it.

There is no "why" that is good enough. I was so off the cool kid track that there was no commerce to be had in humiliating me.  No competing girl would have conspired to hurt me:  I was the awkward geek with orthopedic shoes whose nose was generally in a book.  No threat.

Now I know that people bully because they can.  Just that.  For some reason their empathy quotient is depressed.  They may not have cruel intentions- perhaps their sense of humor is skewed- but they do cruel things. They have victims.

Some of the victims do not have loving families to buttress them.  Some do not have enough serotonin to cast the hurt aside.  Some really suffer.  Some hurt themselves.

I was fine.  I edited my need for acceptance.  I realized that I was not cool.  I made it a point to never, ever victimize  classmates for the way they looked. Or smelled. Or spoke. Or danced. Or any of the other matrices that the bullies use to elevate themselves. I threw myself into every activity that high school proffered.  I still received hate notes in my locker.  The St. Joseph sisters tried to immunize me (and others) from the slings and arrows of the mean girls.  It only backfired.  As the smoking, drinking partying kids were redlined, and the "good kids"  became the cheerleaders, homecoming court and musical leads, we were more laughed at.  I looked like the most content high school kid, and I could not wait to leave.

That is why this Mitt Romney bullying mess gets to me.

I grew up 6 miles from Cranbrook, but millions of miles away in every way.  It was where auto execs and society families sent their sons so they would have constancy despite their dad's extensive travel. It was rigorous.  The campus is noted for its priceless art and ivy league beauty.  Uniforms were formal.  Tuition was high.  The local Bloomfield Hills public schools, which I later taught at, were top tier, and so attending this academy was indicative of great wealth, power and status.  They imported scholarship students to broaden the demographics, and I imagine these kids had the hardest time.

Boarding campuses often have their "pranksters" and they have the cover of night to inflict their harm.  Escape is difficult for the outsider.  Those in "power" laugh off their incursions. There is a claque of supporters, desperate to stay in the cool orbit.  The aggrieved party is invisible.  His pain has to be subverted or there will be more bullying.  I know that.  I remember. But I was a block from home.  Mom and cookies awaited.  Brothers with a broom and a bucket. Not a bunk bed and 300 miles distance to home.

Oh, but Mitt apologized for his prank. This tone deaf explanation pivots on the  assertion that he shaved the kid's head because he hated the bleached hair, not because he was gay.

What? The "why"  is not the key. Hateful victimization, with a cheering audience, should not be part of a 17 year old's repertoire.  There is no context which makes his actions less than violent and reprehensible.

This is not the biggest story of the campaign.  For me, however, it reverberates.  I am, after all, a pirate's dream. I remember. I will withhold my vote from Mitt to honor John Lauber.

He may have forgiven these boys. I'll bet he never forgot.

Mike P, Richard M and Patrick M- I never forgot, either.


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    Well done and well said, Janet. Romney's behavior transcends party and speaks to character. It's true -- your permanent record does follow you around, but often it isn't the school keeping it....

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    Janet, I love and have listened to Steve and your lives unfold before me with anticipation and excitement. Now you are showing a liberal lean jumping on Romney based on rumor and I hate to say that this type of behavior ends a 'relationship' of over 30 years. We have all heard rumors about people, just as I am sure you have heard rumors over the years about Steve. Shame on you!

  • In reply to Cathy Cooper:

    Here you are, Cathy. The link provides other disturbing details and observations. I do not consider this liberal or conservative bias- it is an observation that reflects my teaching career and my awareness of how bullies eviscerate weaker kids for the blood sport of reigning over a moment of attention and power. He was 17. The character development years were in place. I feel no shame in believing the words of the Washington Post, who have rounded up other participants, some of whom express deep shame. Which would provide Mitt with a modicum of redemption. Steve and I are not running for the highest office in the land, where our actions and character affect millions of people.

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    In reply to Cathy Cooper:

    Cathy Cooper, nobody is "jumping on" mitty romney, a known BULLY. His actions were WRONG, and he needs to be taken to task for it. What I'd like to know is why he wasn't promptly expelled and arrested for ASSAULT, which is what he did.

  • In reply to Pattysboi:

    A) Because back then these issues were treated differently than they are today. That doesn't excuse bullying, but let's put it in the proper historical context for crying out loud and not try to apply today's standards to something from over 40 years ago. Let's go through your past and take you to task for everything stupid thing you did as a teenager.
    B) It's not even proven to be true. Several significant "facts" of the article have been refuted by alleged witnesses and even the "victim's" family.
    This is why no decent person in their right mind runs for Senate, Gov, or President. Everyone's so quick to try to score points for their side that they can't see the forest for the trees. Now if Romney said he absolutely didn't do it, said he never hung out with those boys who cheered him on, said they just happend to live in the same building and attend some of the same classes but they would never, ever really talk as if they were sharing ideas and working together....
    And then kick off his election campaign at one of those people's houses...
    Then maybe there's something there.
    Oh, wait....

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    So how does the Obama doing drugs and not releasing his school grade sit with you ?

  • Very well thought out column Janet. Your intentions are well taken. I'm glad politics was not the motivation for your column. I felt your pain and it must have been very difficult to write this post for you. The scars never go away.

    I was bullied and also had a couple of bullying experiences that I regret. And I can remember the names from both sides. I search Facebook sometimes for their names so I can make amends but maybe that's selfish on my part. I'm not sure I'd want to hear from those that bullied me.

    Off topic: The comment section of every blog brings out the best and, sadly, the worst people (most times the worst). Haters will hate and trolls will be trolls. Maybe this is the best way to thin the heard. Keep up the insightful writing and don't be deterred by the blog-bullies.

  • Oh please, even if you don't disapprove of what he did in high school, for any Presidential candidate to say he doesn't remember something so severe means he either is suffering from alzheimer's, is a bold-faced liar, or was such a persistent chronic bully that this was merely one of the many cruel acts he performed. In any case if one would support any of these explanations I would find it hard to believe anyone could call him or herself Christian-like or impartial.

    Paul Harris
    Author, "Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina"

  • In reply to PatriotPaula:

    Interesting dig on his Mormon faith.
    "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?" (1 Cor 6:2)
    Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?

    Interesting reader review of your book: This is the author's story of how he stayed in the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina and how he escaped. It was okay. Then I got to the epilogue. I would have never purchased this book if I knew that he was using it to spew his political, moral and ethical views.

    How "Christian-like" was it to pose as an international tourist to get preferrential treatment and get smuggled out from the Superdome? (From your own product description)

  • It is things like this that will sew up Obama's win. It's too bad that the Romney is the best that the GOP can do, and I am a moderate Republican!

  • Janet, this is a beautiful post. I, too, am concerned about Romney's bullying. It made me sick to read about it. Kids can be stupid, but that was cruel and sadistic.

  • Although I sympathize with with your experience and with anyone that has had to endure any type of bullying, I have to throw up a flag with your intent. Attempting to personalize something that is clearly being used as a politicized event is a questionable tactic. The event happened a long time ago, when Romney was young and reckless - as most of us are at that age. I think that most people being truthful with themselves, would have to admit that they have done regretful things when they were young. We have the luxury of not being in the spotlight and scrutinized in the public limelight for everything that we have done in the past. Bullying is not a presidential quality, but I'm not going to hold a person to something that they did long ago, and use it as a blanket example of how they are today. If everyone was held to that standard, we would all be idiots. Being untruthful and misleading is not a presidential quality either, and our current president has done that more times that I can count - saying or promising one thing and doing something completely opposite. Try writing an article about forgiveness and the good in people instead of getting caught up in the emotion of a media frenzy. I'm just saying...

  • Well done and thanks for sharing.

  • Except that it's not true.
    "Much worse for the Post was a statement released by John Lauber’s sister Betsy, which reads, in full: “The family of John Lauber is releasing a statement saying the portrayal of John is factually incorrect and we are aggrieved that he would be used to further a political agenda. There will be no more comments from the family.” "

    Additionally, they claimed that his friend, Stu White, was present and has been haunted by the event. Except THAT wasn't true either. And when they got caught, they just edited the story and did not indicate that the story was changed or publish a retraction.

    I'm no supporter of bullying--stop it in its tracks in my classroom, as a matter of fact. Your piece rings true for your own experiences, but let's not connect it to an intentionally-timed hatchet job.

    And I'll just quote John Hayward's article for the rest:
    It’s really interesting the way the Washington Post chose to end their article, by noting that Romney received an alumni award just a year after John Lauber’s untimely death. You know what happened a year before Lauber lost his battle against liver cancer? A boat carrying a family of four, two friends, and the family’s dog sprang a leak on Lake Winnipesaukee, dumping them into the dark waters of early evening, and leaving them to howl in terror as other boats zipped around them. Mitt Romney and two of his sons happened to be vacationing in the area. They jumped onto jet skis and raced to the rescue. Governor Romney was pulled off his jet ski at one point. They even saved the dog, a Scottish terrier.
    A couple of years before that, Romney performed a similar rescue for a group of kayakers who were shoved onto hard rocks by fierce winds.
    In 1996, the fourteen-year-old daughter of a Bain Capital partner was kidnapped. When Mitt Romney learned of this, he shut down the entire multi-million dollar firm and flew the entire staff to New York, so they could help look for the girl. Romney hired private detectives, set up a toll-free tip line, coordinated with the NYPD, papered the streets with fliers, contacted every Bain customer in the city, and personally hit the bricks with the Bain crew to join the search. They found her, just in the nick of time – she was dying from an overdose of drugs in a New Jersey basement. She was only rescued because someone saw news coverage of Romney’s search efforts.
    Thirty years earlier, Mitt Romney was a high school student who may, or may not, have been slightly more of a jerk than the average teenage boy. How’s that for an “evolution?” Why on Earth would any reasonable person think his high school misadventures tell us more about his character than his deeds later in life?

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    In reply to jcaschaumburg:

    "Why on Earth would any reasonable person think his high school misadventures tell us more about his character than his deeds later in life?"

    So you're saying kids who commit crimes in high school should be forgiven & not tried as adults because that tells us little about who they're going to be later in life? That sounds like you're giving bullies of today a free pass. "Go ahead kids, it's OK, kick Timmy's arse, you're young, your just acting your age. You'll grow up to be a good person-- doesn't matter how many people you hurt today because tomorrow you can be president."

  • In reply to LeoS:

    That's not at all what I'm saying. Please don't twist my words. In fact, I specifically stated that I stop it dead in its tracks in my classroom.
    We all change, hopefully for the better, as we get older. I would not now make the same decisions I would in high school, or even in college. I'd be the first to admit that for one, I didn't appreciate the people around me enough during those years. Should I be judged now as a thirty-something for not appreciating what I had at 20? The realization that I was taking advantage of some of my friendships is why I guard against that behavior today.
    If you'd like to debate on the topic, I'm game, but not if you try to put words in my mouth, especially in direct contravention to what I explicitly stated.

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    In reply to jcaschaumburg:

    And the good side of Romney will NEVER see the light of day with liberals controlling the media. Those who never question what they see or read are sheep or fools. If I still acted like I did when I was seventeen I wouldn't be alive. We are a culmination of our experiences, our good decisions and our bad. Who you are in the here and now is what is most important. Did you learn from your mistakes and bad decisions or are you still acting like a 17 year old? Stories like this are laughable and maddening for their obvious purpose. When will we see articles about Obama's youth? Forget his youth, what about his young adult years hanging out with radicals and soaking in racist rhetoric in his own church? The answer is never because it doesn't serve the purpose of the liberal media.

  • Why is it that we never forget being bullied?? It cuts to the bone…. but the bullies sure "forget" that they were bullies?????

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    Chooming in Hawaii is so much more presidential. So is blowing coke. So is pimping or votes on late night television, This post was written by an idiot who thinks bullying is a far worse crime than spending more taxpayer money than all modern-day administrations combined and committing our grandchildren to a life of paying for his extravagances. Grow up!

  • A very telling post -- about you, Janet.

    It does not say anything revealing about Romney.

    The only way to stop bullies of any type is to confront them. Nasty kids and nasty adults are cowards at heart. Learning to stand ones ground is the only thing that will save a person from a life of bitterness.

    Having somebody else erase the words only instills the thought further and scorches the sentiment even deeper in a soul, creating hostility and acting out, which I think we see here in this telling.

    Janet, I think you can take some rest in the idea that Obama has learned well how to bully and intimidate, as he is well versed in the Chicago Way, and will so denigrate his opponents -- ala Jim Ryan-- that he will win and win big, with no issue of importance, such as the economy and debt, being seriously addressed by the old media and by new media.

  • Obama is the biggest bully. He allows his government henchmen bully for him. One department has let it loose its their usual modus operandi to "crucify someone to get their message across. He is allowing the government to soon be telling us what to eat, what to drive. He needs to be in Washington doing his job, not out on a yearlong search for money for his campaign. Also, because I never much speak my piece like this, WHO CARES WHAT ANY MOVIE STAR THINKS.

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    I don't like bullies either. But seriously, you are really going to say an incident 47 years ago disqualifies Romney? Laughable really. What about the sitting president. He has bullied the entire country with his policies. He promised bi-partisanship in his administration but tell me what Republicans were involved in creating Obamacare? Even in his book Obama talked about bullying a girl. Go read it for yourself. Do I think that disqualifies Obama? No. Liberals are grasping for straws. What matters is how this country is being led which with the state of the economy, the open mic incidents, and the wanton spending I think any sane person would say "Not very well." Besides, what are liberals so upset with Romney about? He is one of you! Two liberals running for president. What more could the democrats have hoped for!

  • Janet:
    Sounds like a painful incident - one that would make many adults like myself want to be able to scoop up the little girl (you) in the story and deliver her safely from her nightmare and punish the young bullies. Fortunately, most (not all) of these little devils live to regret their actions and go on to do meaningful things in life. For another perspective on bullying - and this one actually involves bullying a girl, like yourself - check out Mr. Obama's description of how he bullied a helpless girl in middle school in 'Dreams of My Father.'

  • I guess it was better to be a high school slacker doing cocaine like Obama than this alleged incident of bullying. Not a fan of Romney, but this is a pathetic excuse to trumpet your support for Obama in a decision made long ago. Be for whomever you want, but to base it on that is embarrassing and shows clearly that you have not read "Dreams of my Father". I can only presume that you and everyone else hasn't changed in the ensuing years and is comfortable being judged for their actions as teenagers.

  • Can a bully grow beyond their pleasure at hurting another, weaker person? Absolutely! Has Romney grown beyond his need to bully and does he regret it? Now that is harder to say because he 'doesn't remember' the incident, although he does remember that he didn't think the boy was gay. I would have more confidence in Mr. Romney's integrity if he owned up to his actions and expressed remorse.

  • Janet...I could not agree more. There is ample scientific evidence that character is formed by age 16 or so. Romney's actions, even at that young age, show a lack of empathy, low self-esteem (masked as superiority) and a cruel streak that should be rejected in ANYONE but especially someone running for President. My son and his friends (captains of the football team, etc.) protected those being bullied because that is what they were taught to do from a young age. What was Mitt Romney taught?

  • I could not love this post more than I do. Thank you for pointing out the scarring that bullying leaves on its victims. I was a victim of intense bullying as a child ( alot of the same type of "sunken treasures, etc) and to this day have painful memories. It's so comforting to read this, really. I had written my own blog about Mr. Romney when this news first broke and many people did not agree with my stance. You however, understand. THANK YOU.

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