Friday, 11 May 2012

Mitt Romney's mealy-mouthed apology doesn't wipe the slate clean

So Mitt Romney apologized for tormenting his gay classmate fifty years ago.  Sort of.  In that new way people have of kind of apologizing, but not really owning up to a wrong-doing, of not admitting that their conduct was hurtful or wrong.  

The New Apology always starts with: "If I offended anyone, ...."  The clear imputation being that the offended party chose to be offended, and that the offender had no intent and no idea that his conduct would be offensive.  Indeed, there is usually a tinge of bewilderment in the tone of the New Apology, as the guilty party bristles that all this political correctness and culture of victimhood is really starting to strain his patience.

The Huffington Post article quotes Mr. Romney thus:

"They talk about the fact that I played a lot of pranks in high school," Romney said. "And they describe some that you just say to yourself, back in high school I just did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended by it, obviously I apologize."

So, taking into account that Mr. Romney uses the word 'if', he implies that he's unsure or unconvinced that someone should feel hurt or offended by being held down by a group of classmates who are clearly not friends, and having his hair chopped off.  Once he was pinned down, the victim shouldn't have been concerned that a pair of scissors was being waved around his head, or have been emotionally distraught afterward by this harrowing loss of control and dignity.  After all this is just a "prank".  Not an assault or hate crime.

Also, the apology is conditional upon the confirmation by the victim that he was hurt.  So that: 'Well if he's hurt, then obviously I apologize'.  The word 'obviously' contains a tone of exasperation and facility.  There is no forthrightness or contrition to the apology, it's reflex, knee-jerk.  A formality.  There is no recognition that the act itself was repugnant and callous, that it requires reflection and a genuine expression of remorse.

This explanation and apology is several different kinds of bullshit.  It minimizes the act itself, then dismisses any responsibility since it happened a long time ago.  Since the perpetrator was a minor.  Since it was just high-jinks, something that happens in high school, all the time.  It blithely skips over the uncomfortable fact that this was a targeted attack on someone whose only crime was that he was different than Mr. Romney's cadre of budding aristocrats.  It is not an apology so much as damage-control, a cynical attempt deflect splatter from his campaign.

Mitt Romney needs to understand a few things, if he really is ignorant and not just playing dumb.  

First, for someone to be swarmed by a group and subdued, then subjected to such an indignity, is a traumatic experience, not a prank.  People who have been tortured, or experienced anesthesia awareness during surgery, whereby they are awake and sometimes feel excruciating pain, but cannot signal or communicate with the surgeons, subsequently develop psychological problems such as depression, mood swings and aggressiveness.  This is due to the loss of control they experienced; such a significant event is enough to 'rewire' the brain.  What Mr. Romney's target experienced is akin to this.  It's orders of magnitude more serious than a sibling subjecting a younger sibling to a round of "Why are you hitting yourself?" 

Second, nobody is buying his assertion that the fact that his victim was a closeted gay teen didn't play into the equation.  He asserts that back then, he and his friends didn't really know about this subject, and that the victim came out as gay years later, so he couldn't have known and it couldn't have played a part in their decision to harass and haze him.  Which anyone who has been to high school knows is balderdash.  Whether Mr. Romney and his friends had a sophisticated understanding of homosexuality or not, whether their 'gaydar' was fully developed, they would simply have targeted the kid because he looked or acted different.  They assaulted their classmate because he looked like a fag, whether they knew what that meant or not.

Third, the important thing with respect to Mr. Romney's campaign isn't really this youthful indiscretion and how long ago it happened, it's how he's changed since then, and how he reacts to it now, and that's the test he's failing in spectacular fashion.  Instead of being very clear that he did something stupid as a teenager, that he's embarrassed by it and that he learned from it, and that he categorically condemns any kind of hazing or bullying directed at homosexuals in general and gay teens in particular, he's engaged in a rearguard action that emphasizes the time elapsed since then, his young age, his ignorance whether his actions had any lasting impact, or that this was merely a prank.  He states that he's not too concerned with this incident, trying to minimize it instead of facing it head on.

He can't be the nominee of a Party that obsesses over his adversary's birth certificate, his place of birth, his upbringing, and his attendance at a Muslim school when growing up in Indonesia, and then turn around and pretend that this incident from his own youth shouldn't be a focus of the press and isn't relevant to his campaign.  This is especially true as the issue of marriage equality and gay rights are shaping up to be major issues in this election, one that is sure to be politicized by the Republican party.

Finally, the worst part of all this is that he claims to not remember the incident in question, just that he did stupid things in school.  This is so disingenuous that I'm comfortable calling it an outright lie.  His conspirators agree that the incident was disturbing, and that the victim was terrified.  Some have spoken of being ashamed of being a part of it, and disturbed by it to this day.  If Mitt Romney doesn't remember this, it means that he committed so many similar assaults that they get lost in his mind.  Either that, or he's a sociopath who isn't able to feel empathy for others, and so was able to forget about this and move on to other lives waiting to be wrecked.  Or most likely, that he's a craven opportunist who'll lie and cheat and say anything to get elected President.  One so consumed by the thought of winning the White House that he'll do the correct thing, the strategic thing, instead of doing the right thing.  Which would be to apologize.

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