The video of bus monitor Karen Klein being bullied by a quartet of schoolboys went viral after one of them posted cellphone video on his Facebook page. The response was one of overwhelming outrage and an outpouring of support, with $500,000 raised online to help send Ms. Klein on a vacation.
More than $500,000 has now been raised online for a 68-year-old school bus monitor from Rochester, N.Y., after a cellphone video went viral this week, showing a group of seventh-grade boys on the school bus brutally mocking and taunting her.
School district officials said they had received more than 1,000 calls and at least 5,000 e-mails from people all over the world, with many expressing dismay over the incident. On Friday night, local and school officials are planning a community gathering with Ms. Klein to show support for her and to publicly take a stand against bullying.
Charles Blow in his column today talks about the greater meaning of this incident and what it says about our society today.
But what, if anything, does this say about society at large? Many things one could argue, but, for me, it is a remarkably apt metaphor for this moment in the American discourse in which hostility has been drawn out into the sunlight.Those boys are not us. But they are some of us. Specifically, Mitt Romney. This was Mitt Romney as a boy. He is the boys on the bus and Karen Klein is John Lauber, and Mitt's other victims. Further accounts of Romney's pranks have been revealed but have garnered less attention. Mitt's father George in a 1970 speech spoke about another head shaving incident Mitt engaged in while attending college at Stanford. Since the elder Romney spoke about this incident publicly, one can only assume he found this to be a positive example of his son's behavior.
Those boys are us, or at least too many of us: America at its ugliest. It is that part of society that sees the weak and vulnerable as worthy of derision and animus.
This kind of behavior is not isolated to children and school buses and suburban communities. It stretches to the upper reaches of society — our politics and our pulpits and our public squares.
Whether it is a Republican debate audience booing a gay soldier or Rush Limbaugh’s vicious attack on a female Georgetown law student or Newt Gingrich’s salvos at the poor, bullying has become boilerplate. Hiss and taunt. Tease and intimidate. Target your enemies and torture them mercilessly. Maintain primacy through predation.
Mr. Romney’s shaving incident, which his father, former Michigan Governor George Romney revealed in a 1970 speech, occurred while he was a student at Stanford. The elder Mr. Romney said Mitt and his friends lured students from the University of California into a trap where they “shaved their heads and painted them red.”And yet another account of Mitt's hijinks and pranks was revealed by the Washington Post. George Keele, who served as a Mormon missionary in France with Mr. Romney in the 1960′s, described a home invasion prank to the Post:
And the point of the article is not that Mitt should be running in shame from these incidents but rather, that his friends are troubled that this 'lighter side of Mitt' is not getting more attention.
“One night in Bayonne, in southern France, Keele answered a knock on the door and saw two men, their faces hidden by sheets, ordering him in French to put his hands behind his back, turn around and not utter a word. Keele fled out the back door only to hear Romney, his mask removed, laughing uproariously in the house.”
Like many people who knew Romney in the past, Keele has a hard time recognizing the candidate on the trail.Clearly the overwhelming success of the fund drive indicates that this incident hit a nerve with the American public. Viewers of the bus bullying incident were rightly outraged and moved to action with an outpouring of empathy. But the American electorate should look at their Republican Presidential candidate this election season, and in him see the Bully On The Bus, and ask themselves if they want that boy to be Bully in Chief.
“Mitt Romney is capable of relaxing,” he said. “The stiffness that people see is simply Mitt trying too hard.”
Ultimately, Christensen thinks Romney is trapped in a sort of Catch-22. He is clearly at pains trying to relate to an electorate that does not share his wealth or upbringing, but voters seem unwilling to let Romney be the wealthy, devout, model family man that his supporters describe.