Profiles in Cowardice*

When an opportunity arises to show moral courage Mitt Romney covers his eyes, ears, and mouth until it passes. After Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and “prostitute” and “round-heeled” after she testified before Congress on contraception Romney didn’t condemn Limbaugh; Romney said “I’ll just say this, which is, it’s not the language I would have used.” (A friend asked what language would he have used? Trollop? Harlot? Wench?”) The Washington Post reported this week that Romney led a group of prep-school classmates in tackling, pinning down, and cutting off the bleached hair  of another male classmate–the hair offended Romney (“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!”). Interviewed about the story and incident on Fox Radio

Romney laughed as he said that he didn’t remember the incident, although he acknowledged that “back in high school, you know, I, I did some dumb things. And if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize . . . I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school, and some might have gone too far. And, for that, I apologize.”

I agree with Gail Collins that “stuff politicians did when they were in high school shouldn’t count. And while this appears to be a particularly mean, and possibly homophobic, incident, it is really a good idea to stick to that rule.” What fails is Romney’s response. Bullying is a significant issue for middle- and high-school students. Homophobic bullying has been linked to high-profile suicides. The Washington Post story served Romney a juicy teachable moment he could have knocked out of the park.  He didn’t even swing at the pitch. “If I hurt you, I apologize” is not an apology. Lawyers use this sleight of hand to make an argument without admitting to the facts underlying it. It’s called “assuming arguendo“–assuming for the sake of argument. It signals no contrition, no acknowledgment of error. It’s chicken, craven, and cowardly.

See also Charles Blow’s “Mean Boys,” Gail Collins’ “The Anatomy of a Jokester,” and the WaPo article.

*For younger readers who don’t recognize the association:

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