What was Mitt Romney like in high school (and should anyone care)?

Today’s buzz is all about a story in the Washington Post (online edition) about Mitt Romney’s high school days at Cranbrook, a tony prep school in Michigan. Allegedly, Romney did some unfortunate things. The worst of them was that, allegedly, he participated in the cutting of the long hair of a fellow student. Other students pinned the kid and Romney cut his hair. The student was gay, but apparently had not revealed himself as such at the time.

He responded to this story by saying he did not recall the incident. He admitted, however, that he engaged in pranks and “dumb things” as a high schooler, and that some of them may have gone too far. He also apologized to anyone who was hurt by his pranks. But Romney insisted that he didn’t know who was and who wasn’t gay during his high school days.

It is no secret that Romney was a serial prankster in high school. A biography of the candidate, The Real Romney written by two Boston Globe reporters, revealed this. Of course, pinning someone and cutting his hair goes beyond a prank; it is a bad act and there is nothing funny about it.

Did Romney do this? It seems likely that he did, though not with any anti-gay intent. Long hair was often an object of derision during that era quite apart from any conscious thoughts about sexual orientation.

To be sure, the timing of this revelation, coming the day after President Obama “evolved” to supporting gay marriage, is curious. It’s also curious that this allegation apparently never surfaced during Romney’s prior campaigns of 1994, 2002, and 2007.

But Romney didn’t deny cutting the kid’s hair, nor did he say that doing so would have gone beyond the kind of thing he did in high school. And there are four fellow students who stand behind the story, at least one of whom apparently is a Republican. Finally, a fellow I know who was at Cranbook with Romney and whose judgment I trust, told me that the Romney of that era was something of a “brat.” This suggests that Romney was more than just a merry prankster back in the day.

But that day was nearly 50 years ago. Does it really matter, for purposes of electing a president, what Romney was like in high school? Not to any fair-minded observer, it seems to me.

As Romney said today, and as The Real Romney demonstrates, he underwent significant changes in the following years. These changes stemmed from his romance with, and marriage to Ann, and from his missionary work in France, including a car crash there that almost killed him.

To get a picture of the Romney that emerged from these experiences, watch this space.

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