A reader writes:
Pranking authority is one thing, but taking advantage of a particular physical weakness of another person, authority figure or not, is quite another. If he'd knocked over a teacher in a wheelchair, would you excuse it in the same way you did the incident with the blind teacher? It's no different than bullying a weaker, presumed-gay, kid. In some ways, it's less excusable, since attitudes towards gays were very different back then.
I'm mostly blind. I take this story as personally as you probably take the story of gay bashing.
Your statement that "[l]eading a blind teacher into a door is cruel, but it's still within the category of prank, in part because it targets authority" made me physically uncomfortable. How is that not merely bullying someone for the sin of being blind? How is that a stand against authority? It is merely another instance of a prick doing something prickish to someone weaker out of a love for being a prick.
Neither of these episodes is defensible and especially not defensible, as your comment implies, as satire. Cruelty is cruelty is cruelty and bullying is bullying is bullying. Simply because one might identify more with one victim than another does not make the suffering of the other victim less noteworthy.
Also, you should take note that Mr Romney's alleged apology, "I'm sorry if anyone was offended," is a non-apology and is the standard one offered by pricks around the world.
My readers, on reflection, are right. I apologize for minimizing the cruelty of this. Maybe it would help if I gave two examples of pranks from my high school days that qualify as pranks. We had a history teacher who had a simian-looking face: small beedy eyes a little too close together and a large round jaw. On his first day, whenever he turned his back to the boys, a chorus of monkey noises would come from the back-row. The next morning, he walked into the class to find a bunch of bananas on his desk. (He was white, by the way. This wasn't racist.) This continued and continued and continued. It was brutal. It was cruel. But we were thirteen. And we thought it was funny.
Then there was the teacher with a hearing aide. One morning, the usual suspects in my class organized it so that every student would mime talking and chattering as he walked in, while keeping deadly quiet. I couldn't join in. I just sat there doing nothing. The teacher looked a little perplexed, took out his hearing aide and adjusted it upwards. The mimes became low murmurs. He turned it up some more. And then the signal was given: everybody scream! The teacher looked like he was having a heart attack, but mercifully recovered quickly and put us all in detention.
I don't want to get too squeamish about this. One of my fellow students, Keir Starmer, is now Britain's Director of Public Prosecutions, a version of the US's attorney general. We all grow up. But there remains something raw about the violence of Romney's assault on a gay kid and his humiliation of a blind man that goes beyond pranks against teachers.
One of the key tests for me of anyone's character is their response to cruelty. Cruelty I would describe as the punishment of the weak by the strong. At Cranbrook, Romney had everything: the father who was a former the sitting governor of the state, a sharp intellect, a classic handsome face, charming, and to the manor born. And yet when he saw a younger effeminate kid with a non-conformist look, he felt no compunction in assaulting him with a pair of scissors, cutting off clumps of his hair. He saw a blind man and tormented him. Today, he favors balancing the budget entirely on the backs of the poor, while cutting taxes further for the rich, and as a Bain consultant posed for a photograph with dollar bills stuffed all over his body.
This tells you something about a man's character. And how he would behave as president. It sickens me.