Today’s Washington Post story on Romney’s school days and his penchant for practical jokes—sometimes of a disquieting nature—underscores a point we made yesterday here at the site: there’s a pressing need for Romney to make a strong personal impression on the American people. Because if he doesn’t, others will fill in the gap.
Now, to anybody who spent time in the Lord of the Flies atmosphere of the elite all-male prep schools of that era, it’s not so remarkable that Romney engaged in bullying. Indeed, giving a compulsory haircut to a campus hippie doesn’t amount to much by the standards the much-dreaded Third Form of Pundit High employed on unwary Second Formers who fell into their clutches. While my own recollections of Second Form (8th grade) year at are blessedly dim, I do seem to recall a certain amount of marching around chanting “Kill the pig! Drink his blood!” from time to time and none of us have ever wanted to talk about what happened to that fat awkward kid with the glasses.
So if the life of adolescent boarding school boys at Cranbrook was sometimes more Slytherin than Gryffindor, Via Meadia isn’t going to lead the public stoning of Mitt Romney.
It is a little more troubling that Mr. Romney doesn’t seem to remember what happened. It is one thing to commit an act of casual cruelty in early youth; another to have such thick psychic armor that the deed makes no impression. (To his credit, he publicly apologized for the conduct today, though he says he does not recall the specific incident. It is not all that unusual that the victim remembers these incidents more clearly than the perpetrator.)
But the larger point here remains that if the Romney camp can’t communicate a strong sense of who their candidate is, backed by a narrative of his life that resonates with people, his opponents will take up the job—and the Romney camp will likely neither recognize nor like the image their opponents paint onto the blank canvas of their chief.
Romney’s Cranbrook hijinks are one thing if seen as an unpleasant incident of the kind that, unfortunately, abounds in all human lives. In context, as a minor and even humanizing blemish on a well known and, basically, well liked face, it may not be George Washington and the cherry tree, but it isn’t the worst flaw a presidential candidate has ever revealed. But when there is no public knowledge of the real man, such incidents have a lot more power and count for more.
Some Americans already think of Mitt Romney (and of most Republicans) as the good looking jocks from the country club set: wrapped up in their own happiness and good luck, casually homophobic, mocking and contemptuous of those who don’t measure up to their rich preppie standards. This story plays into those stereotypes in several ways and makes Mitt and Ann Romney look more like Fitzgerald’s Tom and Daisy Buchanan than like anything middle America likes or approves of.
If he wants to succeed in November, Romney needs to take control of his personal narrative and show the people of this country who he is — and why he is more than just another golden, heedless frat boy who really only understands and cares about people like himself.