The story of Mitt Romney's high school bullying — he held down a gay kid and cut off his fancy hairdo, he led a blind teacher into a door — has caused many political reporters to reflect on their own turbulent teen years, but they're not drawing the conclusions you'd expect. Judging by demographic data, the popularity of particular pop culture references, personal experience, and Twitter avatars, the vast majority of political reporters went through high school as nerds. And yet many of them are coming down on the Team Bully side of this story.
The Washington Post's Jason Horowitz spoke to several of Romney's high school classmates who described the candidate's mean streak. ABC News followed up with an interview with an unnamed classmate, who described Romney's behavior as "evil" and "like Lord of the Flies." And yet, it's Romney who's benefitted from an outpouring of sympathy for being publicly punished for his high school crimes more than 40 years after they happened.
Mother Jones' Monika Bauerlein tweeted, "Okay, as an ex bully-ee I loathe it with a passion, but seriously, we are going there??" It wasn't just bleeding heart liberals whose hearts bled for the rogue teenage barber. "Is there anyone who looks at their childhood and teen years and says 'I was not bullied at all'?" the National Review's Jim Geraghty wrote. "I was bullied once. ONCE," responded alleged ex-nerd Timothy P. Carney of the Washington Examiner. "I was bullied like crazy in high school, once I started fighting back, it stopped," the Washington Examiner's Charlie Spiering agreed. The most improbable nerd turnaround story might have come from Red State's Aaron Gardner, who scoffed, "I was 4'6" when I started HS. I got bullied. I chose to join the football team instead of cry about it." (First and foremost, this tweet raises serious questions about the competitiveness of that football team.)
I’m struck by how few people say that they weren’t bullied at all during their childhood and teen years. But just as it is mathematically impossible for everyone who was 'always the last one picked for sports' to be the actual one, most people’s childhood anecdotes add up to teeming crowds of bullying victims but few bullies to be found.
But there's a difference between having insufficiently uncool cred and actually sympathizing with poor ole Romney. Geraghty's colleague Daniel Foster confessed that "I spent my youth first getting incessantly picked on — mostly fatso stuff, but also some nerd stuff and poor kid stuff — and then, as soon as I got physically strong and clever enough, returning the favor with gusto…. The point is that kids — especially teenage boys — are %#&!s. If we’re to be judged by the people we were at 14, then I’m doomed. I don’t suspect I’m alone, either." Likewise, The Washington Post's Greg Sargent writes, "I can’t get around the simple fact that I wouldn’t want to be judged today by some of the things I did in my teens, and I suspect many others feel the same way."
While lots of people did stupid things in high school (until this Thursday, we thought they mostly involved drugs?), not that many tackled a kid and cut off his hair. I was raised to believe that when, for example, Brandon D. sprays deer pee in the mouth of Charlie S. in the ninth grade annex of Mount Juliet High School, you root for Team Charlie, not Team Brandon. If Charlie S. can take any comfort from today's news, it's the knowledge that if Brandon D. runs for office, he'll finally be held to account for the deer pee incident.