Friday, May 11, 2012

The bullying smear

Recently the Washington Post accused Mitt Romney of bullying a gay student in high school. The story was poorly researched and they were in such a rush to push it out that it first appeared in their on-line edition. Within hours it began to appear that they had gotten some facts wrong. This shows that the story was nothing but an attempt to contrast President Obama's about-face on gay marriage with Romney's supposed anti-gay history.

There are a couple of things about this story that bother me beyond the obvious attempt to smear Romney as violently anti-gay.

First, "bullying" has changed meaning in the last couple of years. Before then it was completely neutral. Jocks picked on nerds, the strong and popular picked on the weak and unpopular. See dozens of episodes of the Simpsons for examples. But in the last couple of years it has taken on a different meaning. The current anti-bullying campaign is mainly aimed at stopping bullying of gays. No one mentions giving wedgies to poindexters when talking about bullying.

The other point is that gays in the early 1960s were very deeply in the closet. Boys were not even supposed to be having sex with girls. The idea that they might be having sex with other boys was unthinkable. Even in the more open 1970s when I was in high school and college, gays didn't really come out until after high school. So the idea that Romney targeted someone because he was gay is highly unlikely, especially since Romney is known for playing pranks on everyone around him. He may have gone too far in one of his pranks but that does not show that he was anti-gay.

The double-standard here is obvious. Obama admits to smoking pot and using cocaine and relates incidents of bullying in his autobiographies but the press never picked up on this. But with Romney, as with Sarah Palin four years ago, they make a point of digging up much lighter offenses.

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