What a month of May it’s been, huh? Let’s recap: Last week, Romney’s openly gay national security/foreign policy spokesman Richard Grenell resigned from the campaign amid disputed reports that he was pressured to stay in the background by anti-gay conservatives. On Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden came out in favor of marriage equality, which made everyone turn their eyes to President Obama and ask, “What about you?” Two days later, the voters in North Carolina voted overwhelmingly to enshrine a ban on gay marriage in the state constitution. The following day, the President announced he was in favor of homosexuals’ right to marry. And today, the Washington Post ran a profile of Mitt Romney’s prep-school years that features a vivid anecdote of the teenage Romney leading a posse of students to hold down John Lauber (who was not openly gay at the time, but definitely suspected of being so by his classmates) while the future Republican presidential nominee forcibly trimmed the kid’s bleached blond hair with a pair of scissors. Somehow, I don’t think the story of Romney saying “He can’t look like that! That’s wrong! Just look at him!” will go down alongside the one about Abraham Lincoln splitting logs.

Addressing Obama’s announcement first: Some critics aren’t giving him that much credit. They note that the timing was forced on him in some ways. Indeed, he has only come round to where he was back in 1996, when he backed gay marriage as a state legislator. He abandoned gay marriage in 2008 because it was politically expedient, and he is endorsing it now because it is politically expedient. That’s definitely not as inspiring as the conversion story that Obama is trying to frame it as.

Then again, so what if there’s an element of calculation in the timing of this announcement? No one becomes president without being able to calculate these things. And Obama has now boxed in Romney rather beautifully. Romney has called for a Constitutional amendment to define marriage as one man and one woman, so the announcement makes him look like a pawn of the gay-haters among his base. If he tries to tack back to the middle, the Democrats will call him a flip-flopper and bring up his 1994 pledge to Log Cabin Republicans to be better on gay rights than Ted Kennedy. He’s stuck.

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Furthermore, Obama’s course correction means his supporters no longer have to tie themselves in knots over the issue. The White House’s original position (gay people should have equal rights, but not marriage) was untenable, and Obama’s supporters were forced to play along and content themselves with signals like the administration’s refusal to defend DOMA. Now everybody’s clear on where the White House stands, and I’m sure the law professor in Obama would appreciate the intellectual clarity. Now it’s the Republican establishment who’s stuck with the untenable position (we don’t hate gay people, but they shouldn’t have equal rights). In fact, Chris Weigant at Huffington Post wondered if Biden’s stumble was a choreographed piece of theater. The way this week has played out for Obama’s re-election campaign, you do wonder.

Regardless, this president understands the symbolic power of both his words and his position in society. No U.S. president has ever expressed support for gay rights as forthrightly as Obama did. Even if his motives weren’t completely pure, Obama has helped millions of Americans merely by saying what he said.

Contrast what Obama’s words have done for him with what Romney’s words have done to him. The Post’s story makes him look like a thoroughgoing jerk, at a cultural moment when it’s particularly bad to be seen as a high-school bully. People do understand that high-school kids do stupid stuff, and that a teenager in 1965 shouldn’t be judged the same way as a middle-aged man in 2012. Romney could have defused the story had he owned up to his actions and said they were wrong in no uncertain terms. Instead, he issued a weak, fudging statement of apology, which is unfortunately what he seems to do in these situations. While Obama comes off in his interview like a person who’s changed his mind after some hard thinking on the subject, Romney comes off in his apology like a public figure whose words have been filtered through a publicist. (He refers to Lauber as “that individual.” Really, would it have killed him to mention the victim’s name?) Actually, forget the president for a second. Romney’s words pale beside those of the other students who took part in the bullying, who all seem properly remorseful over what they did. Romney, for his part, says he doesn’t even remember his actions toward Lauber. This might be true; maybe he feels so much guilt that he’s blocked the incident from his memory. Any other explanation indicates a chilling lack of soul in Romney, or at least the willingness to put it aside for political expediency.

Some conservatives are predictably crying foul, but the Post also sent a reporter to inquire about Obama’s teenage years, and he didn’t find any story about teenage Barack harassing gay kids. You know what? If you sent a reporter to inquire into my teenage years, you’d certainly dig up some unflattering stuff, but nothing of the magnitude of what Romney did to John Lauber. That’s because this story goes well beyond the parameters of harmless high-school pranking. Ultimately, this story isn’t about the presidential election or liberal and conservative attitudes towards homosexuality. It’s about how people should be treated. They don’t deserve to be treated the way Mitt Romney treated John Lauber because they’re gay, or look the part. This behavior was and is wrong, and though it may have been socially acceptable in 1965, it isn’t now. Mitt Romney needs to acknowledge that. Otherwise, the image of him as a gay-bashing tool is going to stick to him.

On a lighter note, Obama’s announcement brought on a number of celebrity tweets. My favorite one is from Patton Oswalt’s always-entertaining Twitter feed: “Seal Team Six just broke down my door and forced me to marry Stephen Fry. Damn you Obama!” Of course, in his subsequent tweets, Oswalt realizes that he could do a lot worse than Stephen Fry.


  1. Obama had to evolve rapidly on the issue because he was threatened with loss of funds. There’s the deep moral conviction.

    As for as the quickly-unraveling strategically-timed hit piece on Romney’s actions as a teenager, that’s just plain funny, that’s all they got?

    We have a self-described junkie president who wrote a book of “compressions”, which can be described realistically as “fiction”, but Romney, well, he cut a guys hair in high school!

    Too damn funny.

  2. Thank you, Kristian, for a great summary of this month’s news stories related to Gay Rights. I am a native of Fort Worth and I believe in an ethic of equity in this country, so I’m glad we are moving away from treating LGBTQ individuals as second class citizens. We should always seek inclusivity and celebrate diversity. I appreciate President Obama’s willingness to educate himself and evolve on this subject no matter what the circumstances of his announcement may be. This situation reminds me of a quote from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed: “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

  3. “Otherwise, the image of him as a gay-bashing tool is going to stick to him.”

    Until Monday or so, then Team Obama will find another meaningless distraction.

    Their combing Romney’s donor list right now, and whatever dirt they can find on donors, they’re posting to the web. Were it republicans intimidating donors this way, cries of fascism would be heard cross the land

    That reeks of several things, most notably desperation.

  4. Either Romney does remember leading his “posse” to assault a quiet, new fellow student and is lying about it, or does not remember (though everyone else involved clearly does) and is a sociopath.
    Based upon his treatment of family pets and struggling companies and employees he enjoys firing, my money is on sociopathy.

  5. In his semi-fictional autobiography, Obama recounts the time a crowd of kids bullied him into bullying someone at his school.

    The victim was a woman. She was also black, and overweight, a trifecta of classic victimhood. At least she wasn’t differently-abled and gay to boot.

    The way the story is told, he didn’t want to assault the girl, but the crowd of kids all but forced him into it.

    He got “appreciative chants” from the crowd.

    He later assaulted another kid who said something Obama didn’t like, bloodied his nose.

    Now, maybe this is true, or maybe it’s “compression”, but where’s the outrage at this sociopathic behavior?

  6. What I’m not hearing in any of your comments, Obama’s Seat, is any indication that you think Romney’s actions were wrong. Do you believe that gay kids deserve this sort of treatment?

  7. Kristian, I don’t really care what Romney did in 1965, anymore than what happened to me because of my long hair back in the day. BFD.

    My point is the story, which is falling apart now, is just a laughable political shot the WaPo fired on O’s behalf, and that’s why I bring up Obama’s violent actions of decades ago, for which he never apologized. Where’s your outrage that he assaulted a young, black, woman of size at the urging of a gang of bullies?

    More important to me is the efforts of the Obama camp to go after Romney contributers by investing them and publicizing anything they feel is a misdeed of the past, does that bother you at all?

  8. You didn’t answer my question. In fact, all your comments seem designed to draw attention away from Mitt Romney’s actions in 1965 and his inadequate response to the story in the present day. Some people might say you’re the one trying to mount a distraction. So I’ll ask again. Do you believe that gay kids, or anybody else for that matter, deserve to be treated in the manner described in the Washington Post?

  9. No, Kristian, kids should not mock, belittle, assault or in any way negatively impact another individual.

    What Romney did 50 tears ago was wrong, were he my kid at the time, I would have disciplined him.

    Mitt Romney was wrong to do what he did as a teen 50 years ago, dead wrong. Mitt Romney has said so. I’m sill going to vote for him.

    My greater point is how efficient the media is at vetting a candidate, these days. I’m really impressed.

  10. A point we agree on, good. Romney should have been disciplined at the time, but it appears that didn’t happen. Though I find the story troubling, the incident in itself shouldn’t disqualify a man from being president. However, Romney is an adult now, and his response to the report in the present day wasn’t enough. He obviously can’t apologize to John Lauber, the man being dead, but he should have apologized to Lauber’s family and made clear that his conduct back then was wrong. Several gay employees of Romney’s in the days since then have testified that they don’t find this anecdote consistent with the man they knew, so it seems plausible that Romney has indeed changed his attitude. For whatever reason, he didn’t say that. Instead, he denied memory of the incident (when his fellow students remembered it quite vividly) and sounded like a politician issuing a blanket statement instead of like someone addressing a specific event who feels genuinely contrite about it. You learn about a candidate in moments like this.

    Of course, Romney still does have time to issue a more detailed apology and turn this into a non-story and perhaps even into an inspiring moment that will convince voters of his decency in a public way. (There is a fair amount of evidence to suggest that he’s a decent man, even in the Post’s story.) Like it or not, a presidential campaign is in many respects about theater, and Romney seems to lack a sense of it. He still has a chance to seize the moment, even if it’s not as good as it was 36 hours ago. Let’s see if he does it.

  11. It’s over, there will be no further “apologizing”, the issue is dead.

    ““I did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended … obviously I apologize…”

    From the family:

    “… the portrayal of John is factually incorrect and we are aggrieved that he would be used to further a political agenda. There will be no more comments from the family.”

    You’ll see no apologies from the Washington Post, or Obama’s team (which includes the WaPo) Obama got his money from the gays they threatened to withhold, and is now marketing gay-themed sweats and such, to make more money. They got what they needed, they’re moving on to even greater distractions from the economy, jobs, and other potentially negative issues for the campaign.

    The government is now directing oppo research to investigate Romney donors for the “name and shame” campaign.There will be no apologies for this shameful action, none at all.

    We await the WaPo’s dogged determination to find “Coretta”, the girl Obama bullied. There will be no effort by the WaPo to locate Obama’s drug dealers. There will be no research by the WaPo to ascertain just how much of Obama’s books are pure fiction, now that that Vanity Fair actually hunted down a former girlfriend who has no recollection of the events described in the book, they can’t risk it.