“I saw it with my own eyes,” Phillip Maxwell, a lawyer who was Romney’s high school pal at the elite Cranbrook School in Michigan, told ABC News. “It was a hack job … clumps of hair taken off.”…

“For Mitt to be a bully just shocks me,” [Maxwell’s brother, Peter,] said. “He was the kind of a guy who would bend over backwards to do something for you and would go out of his way to help people, and for him to be characterized as a bully would be the farthest thing from the truth.”…

Democrats have been delighted by the way the story has played out, circulating news clippings to reporters and highlighting the most damning quotes aimed at Romney, such as Maxwell calling the bullying “vicious.”

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Romney was not disciplined at the time. If such an attack happened in the public schools of 2012, it would probably lead to suspension and might also be referred for expulsion, a number of local public school leaders said following a Washington Post report of the incident involving Romney.

A call to police would probably also be in order because it would be considered an assault, said Alan Goodwin, principal of Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda.

“It would be taken very seriously,” Goodwin said. “Even using the scissors would be considered using a weapon. It would not be an acceptable prank.”

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It might seem incredible that an episode of bullying that was remembered by so many other people in the room has been forgotten by the Republican candidate for president. In fairness, a lot has happened to Romney since his senior year at Cranbrook — he married, served on Mormon missions, ran a private-equity firm, ran the 2002 Winter Olympics, was the governor of Massachusetts, ran for Senate, and ran for president — twice.

But the science of memory retention suggests that Romney would remember parading his classmates into a room with Lauber to clip his hair, if the experience were significant enough for Romney himself.

“One would think that such an action, if it did occur, would be laden with strong emotions, making it less likely that he would not remember it,” said Steven Lynn, a psychology professor at Binghamton University whose area of expertise is human memory.

***

One can draw a straight line from the young man who pinned down a terrified teenager and walked a blind man into a closed door, to the adult who put the family dog in a kennel and strapped it to the roof of the car, to the businessman who laid off hundreds of people, cancelled their health benefits, and paid himself millions while their company went bankrupt. And the line continues: the governor who slashed education and raised fees on the middle class, and the possible president who would use his power to cut taxes on his fellow millionaires while pushing for the gradual demise of traditional Medicare.

Then there is the aura of someone who acts as if the rules don’t apply to him. The Post reported that the abused boy was ultimately expelled from Cranbrook—for smoking a cigarette. Really. The victim got expelled for smoking a cigarette, but Mitt faced no sanctions for maliciously victimizing a vulnerable student and a teacher. It’s good to be a prince. Maybe that’s why Romney felt entitled to take a $10 million bailout for Bain, but opposed President Obama’s bailout of the auto industry. He thinks there’s one set of rules for the privileged, and another for the rest of us.

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A story that casts a young Romney as intolerant and without basic empathy for someone who may have been gay is unfortunate the day after Barack Obama made the most empathetic statement in support of gay rights ever made by a sitting president. Right now Romney is the bully who gangs up on another student in an unfair fight. He is Biff, and as parents we teach our kids to root for McFly.

But Romney could take back his origins. A transformative moment in a person’s life or personal history can clean one’s slate and let one emerge as a different person. And Romney may have one. A year later, at 19, Romney was a missionary in France. He was involved in a searing car crash that by his own admission deepened his faith and changed his outlook on life. A near-death experience and a coma will do that to you. It would explain why there is no analog for the behavior described in the Post story. Romney and his team might consider having him tell that story again soon.

***

In 1995, a Mormon family, the Nixons, had recently moved to the Boston area and got devastating news when two of their sons were rendered quadriplegics by a terrible car accident — a tragedy that was compounded by the financial strain. Having heard their story, Romney called the parents to see if they’d be around on Christmas Eve. Romney, even though he didn’t know the Nixons very well, showed up with Ann and his sons. They brought the injured sons a new stereo system and other gifts. According to the book, the Nixons “were floored” that Romney had not only taken an interest in them, but that he and Ann had taken time out of their busy schedule to deliver the gifts themselves and turn it into a family event to set an example. Romney also offered to pay for their sons’ college educations and participated in multiple fundraisers for them over the years. “It wasn’t a one time thing,” the father told the authors.

One time, Romney found out that a church member had broken his foot by falling off a ladder trying to remover a hornet’s nest. Romney showed up and devised a way of removing it from the inside of the house. “Everyone who has known Romney in the church community seems to have a story like this, about him and his family pitching in ways big and small,” Kranish and Helman write. “They took chicken and asparagus soup to sick parishioners. They invited unsettled Mormon transplants to their home for lasagna.” Another time, a fire broke out near where Romney lived and he “organized the gathered neighbors, and they began dashing into the house to rescue what they could: a desk, couches, books” until the fire fighters made them stop. He also helped build a playground to honor a neighbor’s child who had died of cystic fibrosis. “There he was, with a hammer in his belt, the Mitt nobody sees,” the neighbor, Joseph O’Donnell recounted. “Romney didn’t stop there,” the book reads. “About a year later, it became apparent that the park would need regular maintenance and repairs. ‘The next thing I know, my wife calls me up and says, “You’re not going to believe this, but Mitt Romney is down with a bunch of Boy Scouts and they’re working on the park.”’…

Personally, I don’t think any of this should have bearing on whether or not Romney deserves to be president. But those who want to make the fact that Romney reportedly did something inexcusable in high school into a campaign issue must also grapple with his numerous acts of charity and generosity over the course of his lifetime.

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“The real question here is, is Mitt Romney a bully? And the answer is no,” she said. “Mitt Romney is absolutely, as his other friend from high school said — he doesn’t have a vicious bone in his body.”

In defending Romney as “deeply compassionate” and “unfailingly kind,” she pointed to moments during the GOP primary when Romney was “being attacked from every side.”

“His response was always professional, calm, civil,” she pointed out. “In fact, he even intervened on behalf [of] — to try to help — Gov. Perry when he was stumbling [in attempting to remember a talking point during a debate]. His impulses are very kind impulses and there should be no debate about whether or not Gov. Romney is a bully.”

***

It’s standard fare for revelations about a candidate’s past to be leveraged against him. But it’s unfair to draw sweeping conclusions about Romney’s character based on allegations of high school cruelty. For one thing, it’s hypocritical. The vast majority of high schoolers, as anyone who attended high school can tell you, are pretty unbearable. They can be mean, stupid, cliquish, insecure. They blame everything on their parents, probe for signs of weakness, bad-mouth one another. There is no such thing as a human being who did not make bad decisions in high school, whether it involved binge drinking or bullying a weaker kid. That’s not to minimize the pain Romney allegedly caused; as Horowitz shows, the incident haunted both the victim and some of the perpetrators for a very long time. But it’s not necessarily a measure of who Romney has become.

It was silly four years ago to argue that Barack Obama was unsuited for the presidency because he smoked pot and snorted cocaine once upon a time. It is silly to reach the same conclusion about Romney now. Recreational drug use and adolescent bullying are different — the former crime, most of the time, is victimless. But in 1965, homophobia was even more common than it is now. That doesn’t excuse it, yet even today, in what is supposed to be an era of social progress, anti-gay epithets are still flung haphazardly by kids grasping for touchstone insults, including kids who aren’t anti-gay…

It would be relevant if Romney exhibited this kind of bad judgment, prejudice or cruelty in his adult life. There’s no evidence of that. If Obama is allowed to “evolve,” Romney is entitled to the same privilege.

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Via the Daily Rushbo.