Saturday, May 12, 2012

Messaging Failure

The Washington Post reported this week

Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School. Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, he spotted something he thought did not belong at a school where the boys wore ties and carried briefcases. John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.

“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenage son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.

A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.

Blogging in The Huffington Post, John Becker recalls "the above account of Mitt Romney attacking John Lauber brings back painful memories of the anti-gay bullying I endured when I was in school."   A Romney-friendly Mediaite correspondent quotes HuffPo columnist Sam Stein stating "It wasn’t long ago that we were running specials on TV about how gay teens were committing suicide because of bullying."    A conservative blogger at contends "Obama did some bullying earlier than that."    Media Matters for America chimed in "Right-wing media have responded to a Washington Post story detailing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's alleged bullying of a high school classmate by dismissing Romney's reported bullying as "foolish games" and possibly just an attempt to enforce his school's dress code."

Even long-time Washington Post syndicated columnist Richard Cohen, bane of liberal/progressive bloggers and Rush Limbaugh alike, wrote "Romney says he does 

not remember forcibly cutting the hair of what was purportedly a gay classmate — a bullying so revolting that some of his former classmates not only remember it years later but can’t get it out of their mind."   Cohen refers to Romney's actions three other times as "bullying."

Media Matters caught Limbaugh himself, never missing an opportunity to make a repugnant statement, remarking "See, 1965's a great year; bullying was legal."    He also claims Barack Obama "admits to bullying a young girl," is "an admitted bully," and perceives possible "anti-gay bias in Obama's bullying."

A lot of us have been bullied, in one way or another, to one extent or another, at one time or another.        Far fewer have been attacked, what the Free Dictionary- in its primary definition- calls "To set upon with violent force."     And relatively few have been the victim of an assault, which in common law 

is carried out by a threat of bodily harm coupled with an apparent, present ability to cause the harm. It is both a crime and a tort and, therefore, may result in either criminal or civil liability.

John Lauber was assaulted.     He was bullied, surely, but the term has been so bandied about in recent years that many people are unimpressed by incidents in which the term has been used.    It includes so much it has become virtually meaningless.

Use the term "bully" or "bullied" or "bullying" and the Republican right is certain to find instances in which Democrats, or at least Barack Obama, can be similarly accused, regardless of whether the situations are analogous. 

And they are beginning to do so.      A columnist for the National Examiner writes "As the story goes for Obama's bullying, he was being teased for liking a girl."    Red State's Moe Lane approvingly repeats a message he received from a twit:   "for all I know, ‘Coretta’ is a composite of three or four African-American girls that President Barack Obama bullied as a kid."

"Bullying," the Free Dictionary reminds us, is "To treat in an overbearing or intimidating manner."       If Romney and his good-time buddies had wanted to intimidate Lauber, they knew how to do it.     Threaten to cut off his hair.    Push him and tell him next time, it's his hair that's going down (though no one but police ever said "going down" back then).     Tell him that others who have annoyed them are now sporting crew cuts.    Perhaps bring along a pair of scissors and pretend to constrain one of their own, demonstrating what would happen to Lauber if he didn't cut most of his lock off himself.

Such horrible messaging is practically standard for the left, turning an assault into mere "bullying," and for the center, turning gun violence into "incivility."     Recall the gutless words of President Obama at the service for the victims of Jared Lee Laughner in January, 2011:

The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better. To be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors and coworkers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their death helps usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy -- it did not -- but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud. (Applause.)

We should be civil because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American Dream to future generations. (Applause.)

Gabby Giffords and 12 others were not injured, nor six individuals murdered, by incivility.They were gunned down by a Glock .19 semi-automatic weapon with an extended (33-round) magazine.   It is a firearm designed to allow a lot of people to be killed quickly, legal only because (mostly) Republicans had repealed an assault weapons ban.

The guy who is disappointed that some states have banned same-sex marriage never has suggested that states even reconsider laws authorizing concealed weapons.    Thoroughly intimidated by the gun lobby, he never has advocated reinstatement of the Assault Weapons ban and instead stressed civility.   

Thus having focused on the nebulous "civility," Barack Obama invited criticism from conservatives, who in various instances claimed he was uncivil, evidently offending their precious ears.   Civility is a vague concept, one which the right (ever playing the victim) enthusiastically attached to the President for any perceived slight.

Uncivil.   Bullying.    Any minute now, Democrats may allow earned benefits to be tarred as "entitlements."    Oops.

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