Willard Romney's Wooly Bully

Steve Russell

Is it fair to look back to something a presidential candidate did when he was 18? Depends on your tolerance for hypocrisy. Let those who did nothing wrong at that age avoid a seat on the Group W Bench, but I’m thinking the Group W Bench would be pretty crowded.

So, no, it’s not fair that we know about Barack Obama’s primary school in Indonesia, but somebody thought it was important enough to send a reporter over there and my barber told me, during the last presidential election, that Obama was “educated in a madrassa.”

We know that Obama called himself “Barry” when he played high school basketball, that he and his then single mother subsisted on food stamps at one point, and just recently we got a book featuring the recollections of his early girlfriends. How many of us want to be viewed though the lens of intimate relationships that didn’t work out?

The unfairness is bipartisan. Is it really relevant that George W. Bush partied his way through Yale on the “gentleman’s C”? He wanted to be your president, not your professor.

Another unfair aspect to the Romney roast is our changing attitude about bullying. I expect some Indians may have caught on a bit more quickly because of our raging youth suicide problem, but now most of the fact-based community understands that teenage cruelties can be lethal and adults should not tolerate them.

We know we can’t prevent all the hurts of adolescence, but most of us now at least try to teach kindness by modeling it. When I was young, I knew that Indian elders would not tolerate any open display of meanness so—honest in my old age—I can say I was more aware of my conduct when hanging at the homes of my Indian friends as opposed to my white friends, most of whom were very fond of the N word, something I did not hear from Indian parents.

So times have changed and we could hope that Willard Mitt Romney has changed as well. We could hope that, at some point, experience turned him away from bullying just as, at some point, experience turned George W. Bush away from alcohol and cocaine.

Here’s where it gets wooly. At least five people, interviewed at different times and places, remember a bullying incident, a forced haircut with the young Willard wielding the scissors while others held down the boy who was considered “queer” because he bleached his hair and wore it long in front.

For Indians, a forced haircut keys into some terrible historical memories that do not have any resonance in the dominant culture, but the application of force and the reaction of the victim leave no doubt that the incident was anything but playful.

We have a teachable moment. If Gov. Romney comes forward with the story of how he learned that it’s wrong to abuse power, especially on the bodies of persons less powerful, the result is showing the nation why the adult Mitt Romney can be trusted to lead the most powerful military the world has ever known. The other result is to shame people who dredge up the bad acts of the young Willard to attack the adult Mitt.

What became of the teachable moment? He does not remember the incident! His classmates, some Democrat and some Republican and all deeply ashamed of their conduct, remember it in a way they would like to forget. Gov. Romney’s campaign reminds us that it was a long time ago.

If you are reasonably close in age to Gov. Romney, do you remember incidents that happened in high school or even earlier? I certainly do.

Another possibility is that inflicting psychic trauma on another kid just did not make enough of an impression on the young Willard to anchor a memory, and he did not experience the shame his cohorts experienced. If that is so, it disturbs a lot more than the potential for a teachable moment.

The final possibility is that he’s lying by denying, pulling the wool over our eyes and keeping his own eyes closed until the boogeyman of the past leaves the room.

It’s obvious in his statements that he’s adopted “high school” to address his problem connecting with ordinary people. One of the many ways I betrayed my class origins when I started hobnobbing with the Ivy League was the terrible faux pas of asking “Where did you go to high school?”

The proper question of a gentleman, I learned, is “Where were you prepared?”

Like most American voters, I was never “prepared,” and until this story came out, my only experience of “Wooly Bully” involved a Chicano kid from Dallas named Domingo Samudio, who called himself “Sam the Sham.” His act was a lot less dangerous than Romney’s.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.

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wisgriz's picture
The author is a child of the 60's and the culture revolution of that era. Where are the skeleton's of his life that still hang around in his memory. What are some of the antic's he pulled when he protested during that era.This Texas judge and professor earns a good living and is set for life with that education. Your a hypocrite to point the finger at George W. and Mitt. Don't you have anything else write to about than George W. It's pretty clear your not mature enough or smart to think of anything else to write about. I even question your claim to Cherokee ancestry. Wisgriz
swrussel's picture
I'm happy to plead guilty to having lived fully in my times, and my times were dominated by the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war movement. While I volunteered for service and for Vietnam, I learned better the hard way. As to my time in the movement, I indeed have a lengthy arrest record that was completely vetted in public every time I ran for office. My response was then and is now: how could you live though those times and stay out of jail? Jail was in those times the only place for decent people to be. We honor MLK with a national holiday, and his first major writing was "Letter from the Birmingham Jail." I wear my arrest record as a badge of honor and ask, in addition, whether you really want somebody deciding who goes to jail and for how long who has no idea what that means? I will also plead guilty to having gone from dropping out in the ninth grade to having a pretty cushy retirement. I do not claim I'm a Cherokee descendant or I would say so. I say I'm a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and you are free to call and ask them. You have my written promise that if I'm not a citizen, you won't have to ask ICT to fire me. I'll leave. You are so irate that you question my citizenship but you appear not to have read what I wrote. I may have picked on George W. in the past, but in this instance (read it slowly) I argue that the public discourse went too far back into his life. Ditto Obama. Ditto Romney, had he claimed that he's grown up now. I genuinely do not care about Bush's cocaine use. He was clean long before he ran for office and he has stayed clean.
loisdaum-xenakis's picture
People walk around with their eyes closed and a lack of memory. We have all done something in our youth we wish to forget!