Anyone who has made his or her way to this backwater in the blogosphere must have seen the Washington Post article on Mitt Romney’s history of cruelty and bullying at his prep school. The event that has gotten the most attention is Romney’s bullying of a nonconformist classmate — a kid with dyed blond hair — that had overtones of gay bashing and homophobia. But what about this incident:
One venerable English teacher, Carl G. Wonnberger, nicknamed “the Bat” for his diminished eyesight, was known to walk into the trophy case and apologize, step into wastepaper baskets and stare blindly as students slipped out the back of the room to smoke by the open windows. Once, several students remembered the time pranksters propped up the back axle of Wonnberger’s Volkswagen Beetle with two-by-fours and watched, laughing from the windows, as the unwitting teacher slammed the gas pedal with his wheels spinning in the air.
As an underclassman, Romney accompanied Wonnberger and Pierce Getsinger, another student, from the second floor of the main academic building to the library to retrieve a book the two boys needed. According to Getsinger, Romney opened a first set of doors for Wonnberger, but then at the next set, with other students around, he swept his hand forward, bidding the teacher into a closed door. Wonnberger walked right into it and Getsinger said Romney giggled hysterically as the teacher shrugged it off as another of life’s indignities.
How does this speak to Romney’s views on people with disabilities? There are many measures of how far the Republican party has sunk — from William F. Buckley to Sarah Palin, say — but in my neck of the woods, it couldn’t be sharper than the contrast between the man who signed the ADA and someone with so little respect for people with disabilities that he would humiliate his own blind teacher.
Would any of us be elected if judged by our adolescences? Perhaps not, though mostly due to lingering squeamishness with recreational drug and alcohol use. I cannot think of any friends or classmates who did anything close to the cruelty of assaulting a fellow student to cut his hair simply because he was different or physically ridiculing a disabled teacher.
Two other things strike me. First of all, of course, the homophobic bullying has received far more attention than the disabiliphobic bullying. Part of that has to do with the fact that the article was published within a day of both North Carolina’s shameful vote enshrining marriage discrimination in its constitution and President Obama’s declaration of his support for marriage equality. But I’m concerned that that casual tone of the quote above indicates a greater societal acceptance of disability-related “pranks” than homophobic “bullying.”
I’m also struck by just how uncivilized Romney’s behavior was. And not just once, but apparently over and over. We Democrats are supposed to be the party of the uncouth, unwashed hippies, and the GOP the party of Brooks Brothers, using the proper wine glass, and not wearing white after Labor Day. But the behavior described in this article is deeply uncivilized, and the fact that it was laughed off at an elite prep school speaks volumes.
How on earth could we trust this man to run our country?