Mitt Romney was a high school bully? Big deal. Don’t get me wrong: I hate bullies. But I also know that there are very few of us who make it through our teen years without being huge jerks at some point—and I guess I’d rather my next job interview didn’t hinge on that time I called a classmate a nasty name. The eternal shame is punishment enough, thanks.
So the problem isn’t that Mitt was a bully. The problem is that he is a bully.
Bullies are arrogant. Bullies prey on weaker foes. Bullies never stand up to a stronger enemy, no matter the principle. These are the features that, not coincidentally, define Mitt Romney’s public life.
Let’s examine the evidence, shall we?
Arrogance: Mitt launched his latest presidential campaign, you’ll remember, by writing a book: No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. His idea is that being an American means never having to say you’re sorry.
His philosophy was distilled to its essence during a trip to Mississippi in March. There he told the crowd, “We may make mistakes as a nation from time to time and step on others’ toes, and we’ll say we’re sorry for that, but apologizing for America is something I will never, ever do.”
It’s a cheap an easy applause line, but it’s predicated on the idea that our country is so perfect that it has nothing to apologize for. Again, he said this in Mississippi. You can be proud of—and love—your country while occasionally confessing to sin. Sometimes, that confession is the only way forward to progress.
Unless, of course, you’re a bully.
Preying on weaker foes: In one sense, Romney made his millions as a professional bully. He didn’t get rich by creating some new product that the public realized it needed. Instead, Romney and Bain Capital looked out for struggling companies, bought them up—and, often, stripped them for parts, reaping the benefits while workers were denied the pension, health benefits, and severance pay they’d been promised.
This would also be Romney’s basic approach to governance. His tax plan would give every millionaire an average cut of $250,000 from their yearly IRS bill—meanwhile, the party he leads is trying to cut $380 million from the budget by slashing food stamps, child tax credits, and Medicaid. It’s reverse Robin Hood.
Pandering to the powerful: One of Romney’s real achievements in public life was to create Massachusetts’ universal health law—but then again, he did it in a state that is dominated by Democrats. That law, of course, is terribly similar to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act—but Romney disavowed the similarities as fast and hard as he could once the Republican base turned against it. Whichever way the political winds are blowing, you’ll see Mitt rolling down the street like a tumbleweed.
Listen: We probably can’t have a representative democracy without former jocks and ex-mean girls. Without those folks, Congress and the state legislatures would probably be near-empty. So voters have to do the best we can.
But the truth is this: There is no “Sister Souljah” moment in Mitt’s public life.
There is no history of him taking a stand that might put him crosswise with powerful people and their constituencies. No moment of raw political courage. No standing up for the underdog. No punching up, but plenty of punching down.
Mitt’s “toughness” only manifests itself against illegal immigrants, workers, the poor, and many, many other people who need defending. He is never, ever their defender. There’s no other way to put it: Mitt Romney is a bully—and he might end up being our next president. America, get ready for four years of noogies.