Mitt Romney — May 11, 2012 at 8:26 am

Can a guy like Mitt Romney ever understand what it’s like to be the kid being held down?


His hair wasn’t the right height

Yesterday, America took a trip to Mitt Romney’s adolescence and I think I’m the only one who doesn’t want to come back.

Matthew Friedmann to Mitt Romney's left.

Around eight AM Thursday morning, news broke about a disturbing incident that took place at the Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan while Mitt was a student there in the mid 1960s. Romney’s high school friend Matthew Friedmann told the Washington Post how Romney was incensed by a classmate’s bleached hair.

“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” Mitt reportedly said. Later Mitt and some friends tackled the boy and forcibly cut his hair.

Mitt asked some of his prep school friends to speak out in his defense. One responded by confirming the story that Mitt claimed to forget and describing life at Cranbrook with Mitt as resembling “Lord of the Flies.”

This disturbing revelation and its immediate aftermath produced a remarkable result. Within hours, the GOP’s nominee for President of the United States was apologizing for the incident in a vague but acceptable way. He also denied that he knew the student he’d assaulted was a “homosexual.”

A day after the President of the United States said he was for same-sex marriage, his opponent was apologizing for a fifty-year old incident we’d now call gay bashing. History can move quickly.

Here’s where I get involved.

Yesterday morning, I was asked if I would find a picture of Mitt Romney as a cheerleader during his years at Cranbrook. (You may remember Cranbrook as the school Eminem clowned in 8 Mile.) This picture would help make a case that needs to be made about the remarkable parallels between Mitt Romney and George W. Bush.

Being @LOLGOP, I felt obliged to find such a picture. So I mapped the Cranbrook Schools and set out from my home in Ann Arbor for the forty-five minute drive.

I’m from California so you can imagine my nearly urine-producing shock when I saw downtown Detroit for the first time. The burned out apartment buildings, the whole blocks that look as if they’d been crumbling since the since the sixties, they shook me. But that feeling was nothing compared to the shock of discovering a place like Bloomfield Hills.

I’ve been to Bel Air, Beverly Hills, La Jolla, Montecito, Sausalito. All are pockets of opulence nestled adjacent to freeways, grime and the real world.

Bloomfield Hills is nothing like that. Wide streets forever, endless huge quaint homes, country lanes that wind and wind you away from any connection to the real world. Settled in the midst of this infinite expanse of affluence is the Cranbrook Schools.

When I approached the gate, an attendant in a large booth waved me in. There were two of them. Both in ties.

Suddenly feeling that the Republican Party must know exactly what I was planning, I lied, “I have an appointment at the library.”

The attendants looked each other in the eyes then preceded to look me in the eye and give me directions, together. A right at the stop sign, a left, a right. Jesus, how big is this place?

When I finally parked, it was between a baseball field and a lacrosse field, both large enough for pro teams—if there are pro lacrosse teams. I got out of my car wandered nearly in a circle, trying to not look like an agent of the 99%.

Finally I had to ask a student, “Excuse me. Where’s the library?” He took off his ear buds, looked in my eyes and gave me a series of rights and lefts.

On the second floor of the boys’ field house, I found a snug little room about the size of a kids’ section of a typical public library. The head-tilting librarian was seated just inside the entrance and she made eye contact with me as soon as I stepped inside.

“Hi, are there other libraries here?”

She listed four other libraries on campus.

“The first one,” I said, referencing the Cranbrook Library proper. “That’s where I need to be.”

She smiled and gave me a list of lefts and rights. “And the librarian should be there till 4:30.”

I looked at my phone: 4:09.

Even before I read Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life, I wanted to go to prep school. To me, it was an idyllic escape to a rural world where I would never have to see my stepdad. There I would wear a tie and learn everything.

As I made my lefts and rights, I realized I didn’t have imagination to imagine that prep school would be like Cranbrook. The vast green fields, the rustic Ivy League looking buildings far too large for the few hundred students it must serve, the space to become whatever you wanted. People looking you in the eye and wanting you to succeed. My God, I thought, if I came here I would be Mitt Romney.

I parked on the outside of the school and began my walk in. Another student looked me in the eye and gave me directions, “Make a right at the fountain.”

And there was the library. It could have been a exterior for a Harry Potter movie or Ordinary People. A perfect squat stone structure that said, “Come here if you want to learn.”

The librarian here was situated in a room off to the side. She looked me in the eye and I asked if she had Cranbrook Annuals. I figured this place was too nice for “yearbooks.”

“You mean yearbooks?”

I nodded and guessed the years, “65 and 66?”

As she went to a back room to find them, I checked what year Mitt had graduated on my phone. 1965. I was getting Cranbrook lucky.

She handed me the yearbooks and said, “We close in about ten minutes.”

In seconds, I found Mitt’s yearbook picture. There he was. The governor’s son with acceptable hair, about to head off to France on his mission to convert their aristocracy. And there he was with Friedmann.

As I took pictures, my hands were shaky. When I discovered Mitt Romney in the Pep Club, I nearly dropped my phone. I was certain Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie were about to burst in and do a citizens’ rendition.

There Mitt was, arm outstretched, singing. No one in his world was ballsy enough to tell him his voice sucks. No group of boys would ever hold him down to him down to teach him a lesson.

Now, here’s the question.

Should going to a school in an alternate dimension where everyone and everything is designed to make your success feel inevitable disqualify you from being President of the United States?

Probably not. JFK and FDR did. But JFK had the military and FDR was just born a traitor to his class.

Even assaulting a kid to cut his hair fifty years ago while at such a school shouldn’t innately disqualify you. But it should make America ask some questions.

How can a guy like Mitt ever understand what it’s like to be the kid who is held down?

Not just held down by the bullies we all meet but by the schools where failure is an option, by the streets where decay stains every turn, by a society where the rich only get richer and more coddled and more distant from the people who are one paycheck from losing their crappy apartment on a crappy street in a crappy world that can’t even imagine Bloomfield Hills.

I didn’t find that picture of Mitt as a cheerleader before the library closed at 4:30. But what I did find that my sense that Mitt is a removed guy whose vision of prosperity is one that excludes the vast majority of us was wrong. Mitt actually thinks everyone can succeed because he comes from a world where that’s true.

He has no idea what the real world is like. He has no idea of what his prep school friends actually think of him now. No idea how to fix this country without punishing those who are struggling, out of sight and out of mind. I’m more convinced of this than ever. Only now, I don’t blame him.

[Photos by @LOLGOP. Use of these photos with a credit and a link back here is fine by me.]