Not entirely out of the norm

What about Mitt Romney and his fun-loving ways at prep school? What about that time he rallied a bunch of fellow seniors to tackle a junior, hold him down, and cut his hair off?

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.

It’s a plant! This Friedemann fella is a secret friend of Obama’s.

The incident was recalled similarly by five students, who gave their accounts independently of one another. Four of them — Friedemann, now a dentist; Phillip Maxwell, a lawyer; Thomas Buford, a retired prosecutor; and David Seed, a retired principal — spoke on the record. Another former student who witnessed the incident asked not to be identified.

Oh. Probably not a plant then.

I’ve seen a lot of “he was young” commentary. But he wasn’t all that young: he was a senior in high school. By that age you’re sort of expected to control impulses to tackle people and cut off their hair. You’re also sort of expected to know how to live and let live. You’re expected to grasp that whatever your likes and dislikes may be, you don’t get to enforce them on other people with physical force.

Notice, too, that Romney collected a gang of people to tackle this one kid – who was a target for being Not Manly Enough.

Romney sounds like a high school shit. Yes, some people are high school shits and then improve – but some are just shits.

“It happened very quickly, and to this day it troubles me,” said Buford, the school’s wrestling champion, who said he joined Romney in restraining Lauber. Buford subsequently apologized to Lauber, who was “terrified,” he said. “What a senseless, stupid, idiotic thing to do.”

“It was a hack job,” recalled Maxwell, a childhood friend of Romney who was in the dorm room when the incident occurred. “It was vicious.”

“He was just easy pickin’s,” said Friedemann, then the student prefect, or student authority leader of Stevens Hall, expressing remorse about his failure to stop it.

The incident transpired in a flash, and Friedemann said Romney then led his cheering schoolmates back to his bay-windowed room in Stevens Hall.

Friedemann, guilt ridden, made a point of not talking about it with his friend and waited to see what form of discipline would befall Romney at the famously strict institution. Nothing happened.

So the others are troubled by it but Romney isn’t. The others feel remorse and Romney apparently doesn’t. That too is interesting.

His campaign is portraying him as a likable, funny guy at prep school, and that apparently fits the record. But.

But Friedemann and several people closest to Romney in those formative years say there was a sharp edge to him. In an English class, Gary Hummel, who was a closeted gay student at the time, recalled that his efforts to speak out in class were punctuated with Romney shouting, “Atta girl!” In the culture of that time and place, that was not entirely out of the norm. Hummel recalled some teachers using similar language.

It’s not entirely out of the norm in the culture of this time and place, either. “Like a girl” – still a popular insult; just ask Tom Harris MP. But the norm is never universal, and it wasn’t universal even then. Some people are thoughtful enough to realize that the norm can be stupid or vicious or both.



  1. Thomas says

    I wonder if John Lauber has had anything to say about the incident. This would be the time. I still have angry feelings left over from high school bullies. Wouldn’t mind a little payback if only vicariously. You didn’t have to be gay back then, you only had to be less macho that they were.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    Thomas @ # 2: I wonder if John Lauber has had anything to say about the incident.

    You’ll have to find (and pay) a psychic to channel him for you, since he died circa 2005.

  3. says

    Again, I’ll offer the definition.

    Hijinks: Felonious assault when committed by rich, privileged white kids.

  4. anne says

    It sounds like a vile piece of bullying. Romney could perhaps be forgiven for what he did as a teenager if he said now that he looked back on it with horror and totally condemns that sort of behaviour. He doesn’t. He says he can’t remember. His classmates remember all right, and they are ashamed, but either Romney did this kind of thing so often he can’t recall this particular incident, or he does remember and doesn’t care. Either way, it’s disgraceful.

    And what about his asset-stripping adult career?

  5. says

    …Hummel recalled some teachers using similar language.

    Combine this incident with Romney’s total refusal to take a stand against his own church’s racism (as late as 1978 no less!), and you get a selfish conformist bully who gets away with what he does because he’s enforcing the prevailing prejudices of his time.

  6. says

    He doesn’t. He says he can’t remember. His classmates remember all right, and they are ashamed, but either Romney did this kind of thing so often he can’t recall this particular incident, or he does remember and doesn’t care.

    …or he was so thoughtless about his actions that he simply didn’t think enough about it, one way or another, to imprint it on his memory. Just like a kid being ruled by his impulses and doing whatever he felt like doing and not remembering it five minutes later.

    I was a right little shit in junior-high school sometimes; but I REMEMBER most of what I did, because: a) there’s a part of my mind that remembers it and processed it on a deeper level than “huh-huh, that was fun;” and b) there were both kids and adults at the time who were willing to say I was wrong.

  7. says

    “Like a girl” – still a popular insult; just ask Tom Harris MP.

    See also former California Govervor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “girly man” comment.

  8. sailor1031 says

    According to something I heard very recently on NPR, the inability to show remorse is one of the key characteristics of a psychopath. So is complete lack of empathy, such as would be displayed by tieing a dog in its carrier to the roof of your car and driving twelve hours without allowing the poor animal even a potty break.
    I know all I need to know about this unpleasant Romney creature, thankyou!

  9. says


    Armchair Psychologist might agree with you seeing as pathological lying is another sign of psychopathy, and as we can see on Maddow’s Blog, they’re up to 14 installations of “Mitt the Mendacious.”

    Of course this is Armchair Psychology.

  10. Art says

    You have to understand the deeply ingrained masculine sense of right and wrong, and forthright willingness to make corrections. Even at risk to his reputation. The kid didn’t want to cut his hair so Willard did it for him. And that dog wasn’t going to strap itself to the roof of the car. It is Romney’s unique ability to see what has to be done to maintain order, and do it. He will do what needs to be done serve the interests of those who own this country and lead us all back to our individual rightful places to bring back prosperity to those who really count. Even if we whine, cry, and wet ourselves (as the dog did) as we watch him take charge and gives us what we so richly deserve. Gives it to us all good and hard.

    “Thank-you sir, may I have another?”

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