From Watergate to Wedgiegate

From now on the fully informed voter will have to pore over every nasty prank potential candidates committed as kids

From Watergate to Wedgiegate—the Washington Post's investigative journalism has sure come a long way. If last week's "expose" on Mitt Romney's prep-school bullying is any indication, from now on the fully informed voter will have to pore over every nasty prank potential candidates committed as kids.

Thanks to the Post, the punditocracy spent the better part of last week debating the forcible haircut that Romney gave a fellow student 47 years ago. The incident in question makes teenaged Mitt look like an abusive jerk. But it's not clear what it tells us about Romney's character nearly five decades later.

The story struck a chord however, perhaps because it comes amid massive state and federal efforts to eliminate bullying in our nation's schools.

No doubt some schools should do a better job disciplining or expelling children who abuse their peers, but much of the current anti-bullying crusade smacks of the misguided idea that every human problem can be sorted out with zero tolerance policies and skads of social workers.

Savor the irony that it was the pugnacious New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—famous for bellowing at constituents—who in 2011 signed the nation's most sweeping anti-bullying law. The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights mandates training programs for school employees and students, grades school districts on compliance, disciplines teachers who "should have known of an incident," and requires the appointment of "school liasion[s] to law enforcement." One New Jersey district has even formed a partnership with the local Crime Stoppers hot line, allowing middle-schoolers to report suspected bullying to the police via text message or email.

President Obama, who on the first day of school in 2009 took time out from running two wars to have himself piped into the nation's classrooms, urging students "to stand up for kids who are being teased," is working hard to catch up to Christie.

In a 2011 letter to the nation's school boards, Department of Education Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali outlined the administration's federal anti-bullying policy. As Competitive Enterprise Institute legal scholar Hans Bader noted at the time, the document "defined 'harassment' so broadly as to reach both speech protected by the First Amendment, and conduct the Supreme Court says does not legally qualify as harassment."

Indeed, the definition of bullying offered on the administration's website, stopbullying.gov, includes "spreading rumors," "attacking someone...verbally," and even "excluding someone from a group on purpose." This may be difficult to police.

More concerning still are the efforts to combat bullying—broadly defined—among young adults and grown-ups.

In 2010, New Jersey Democrats Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Rep. Rush Holt introduced the federal Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, named after the Rutgers University student who committed suicide that year. The Clementi case was tragic, but the statute in question validates Radley Balko's axiom that "Laws named after crime victims and dead people are usually a bad idea." The law's broad wording would have the effect of reinvigorating campus speech codes that have come under constitutional challenge for violating the First Amendment.

Meanwhile, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute, legislation has been introduced in 17 states that would allow employees to sue when their boss is a jerk. One such law, passed by the New York Senate in 2010, proscribes behavior "that a reasonable person would find to be hostile, offensive and unrelated to the employer's legitimate business interests."

At its best, the anti-bullying movement has made progress disciplining truly abusive behavior. At the extremes, however, it resembles an effort to take the rough edges off of life by smothering school and workplace interactions with bureaucrats and lawyers.

As one New Jersey school administrator told the New York Times, "kids have to learn to deal with conflict." That goes double for adults.

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute, the author of "The Cult of the Presidency," and a columnist at the Washington Examiner, where this article originally appeared

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  • CockGobbla||

    Complaining about Romney's asshole behavior as a kid is Political Bullshit Hackery 101. Hearing liberals refer to this story is a good tipoff that they're not at all committed to anything resembling intellectual honesty.

  • grrizzly||

    I still think that being outraged about Seamus The Dog on the roof of Romney's station wagon reveals that one is a hack even more.

  • John||

    The hacks don't talk about that anymore since it is now associated with Obama'a Bichon Apatite moment.

  • Ken Shultz||

    If you think about it, the campaigns really do a good job on some things.

    One campaign found out the other guy drove around with his pooch strapped to the roof of his car, and the other campaign comes back with the fact that the other guy is a dog-eater.

    That's really good work, actually. I bet they don't teach you how to do that in school, when you get a Master of Public Policy, either.

  • John||

    It wasn't the Romney Campaign who found out Obama was a dog eater. It was a conservative blogger. And the fact was hidden in plain sight inside Dreams of my Father.

    Goes to show you how many people bothered to read that book as opposed to owning it and talking about how wonderful it was.

  • Paul.||

    You can't blame them, john. If you want to find out what a politician is really like, the last place you're going to go is his book.

  • ||

    What it means is that liberals did op research on a squeaky clean Mormon and basically came up empty, and this was about the worst they could come up with. They are damning themselves with faint praise.

  • Seamus||

    You mean praising with faint damns, don't you?

  • DarrenM||

    I want to know when Obama stopped wetting his pants.

  • Aresen||

    OFFS.

  • Abdul||

    I am disappinted to learn that setting the middle school wedgie record now disqualifies me from holding higher office.

  • R C Dean||

    If you were the recipient, I hear the Victim Card is still good in some precincts.

  • Peter L||

    Just claim you were a misguided youth, a victim of the degredation of society. Then blame Bush.

  • Bee Tagger||

    "that a reasonable person would find to be hostile, offensive and unrelated to the employer's legitimate business interests."

    Isn't this pretty much the only thing to look forward to during most days of work?

  • Mike M.||

    If last week's "expose" on Mitt Romney's prep-school bullying is any indication, from now on the fully informed voter will have to pore over every nasty prank potential candidates committed as kids.

    But only if the potential candidate is a republican. If you want to get an indication of what coverage of liberal democrats will continue to be like, try finding serious, substantive coverage of Obama's presidency in most of the so-called "mainstream" media.

    Good luck to you with that; to call the predominant coverage of this president and his administration a joke is an insult to all the great jokes in the world.

  • PapayaSF||

    Apparently Biden was a bit of a hellion as teenager, but nobody cared until the "Romney used to bash gays" story (as my friends now refer to it) came up.

    It all seems calculated to play off of Obama's personal approval ratings (he's the "nice guy") and portray Republicans as heartless monsters. Since Obama has few successes to run on, this is all they've got.

  • NotSure||

    Once me and some school mates put super glue on the seat of another pupil, I guess I can kiss all my dreams and ambitons in politics away.

  • ||

    "I guess I can kiss all my dreams and ambitons (sic) in politics away."

    Some people have all the luck.

  • John||

    So Romney rumors of Romney being a obnoxious prep school kid are highly relevant. But rumors of Obama's gay sex, palling around with terrorists and radicals, and frequent drug use in his 20s are beyond the pale. Got it. Way to keep it on the straight and narrow WAPO.

  • KDN||

    rumors of Obama's gay sex

    I've never heard of this, and there's no way in hell I'm googling it.

  • John||

    Supposedly Obama had a b/f back in Chicago. And the guy was mysteriously murdered sometime in the 00s. There are allegedly several ex boyfriends running around. NTTAWWT. But the media has never bothered to look.

  • Abdul||

    I find it hard to believe that any gay man could compete with Obama's own reflection.

  • Devil's Advocate||

    High school kids are assholes. This is not news. The only way it becomes news is when fully grown adults still hold such a juvenile view of life that they believe that the government can and should make like "fair."

  • Moogle||

    "From now on the fully informed voter will have to pore over every nasty prank potential candidates committed as kids"

    Ha! It's a trick!

    There's no such thing as a an informed voter, much less a fully informed one.

    As a great wise man once said, "Fool me once, shame... shame on... you... fool me... can't get fooled again!"

  • Paul.||

    Win

  • Ken Shultz||

    From now on the fully informed voter will have to pore over every nasty prank potential candidates committed as kids

    Certainly, no kid that ever went to boarding school would ever get to be president again.

  • Registration At Last!||

    Romney could have ended this by copping to what he did and offering an apology that sounded sincere.

    Instead, he says (i) he can't remember it, but (ii) he didn't think the kid was gay because (iii) nobody thought about anybody being gay in the 1960's and (iv) anyway he is sorry if anybody was offended.

    Not exactly Lincolnesque.

  • Paul.||

    It's not like anyone here is voting for him. Or...anywhere else. Biden 2016!

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Or, if he had real balls, he could have said, "It's quite pathetic that the Obama administration's credibility is so shot over war and the economy that they're trying to get me to apologize for something that may or may not have happened 40 years ago."

    The whole "Gotcha!" is based on the iditoic notion that this guy was so emotionally scarred by the alleged experience that he killed himself over it 20 years later.

    This is just another example of why anti-bullying hysteria needs to be ridiculed and marginalized.

  • Registration At Last!||

    Uh, you might need a fact-check, friendo. The story came from the Washington Post, not from the Obama opposition research, and the alleged victim did not commit suicide, but died of cancer.

  • DarrenM||

    The story came from the Washington Post, not from the Obama opposition research

    I guess I'll have to take it on faith there's a difference.

  • Registration At Last!||

    Or you could step outside of your little Ron-and-Rand echo chamber, crack an edition of the WaPo once in a while and read all the flak they throw at the administration.

  • ||

    The only flak WaPo tends to throw at the administration is that it hasn't been aggressive enough and has been to beholden to reactionist pig Republicans. You can't seriously be trying to paint WaPo as anything other than a very left-of-center publication, can you?

  • Killazontherun||

    Yes, RAL is that stupid.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Indeed, the definition of bullying offered on the administration's website, stopbullying.gov, includes "spreading rumors," "attacking someone...verbally," and even "excluding someone from a group on purpose."

    Ah, if only they had had this when I was in high school. As a butt-ugly kid who couldn't get a date because my school didn't have any blind girls, I could have had the government punish several girls for their mocking rejections!

    Seriously though, have they thought through how something like this might get used?

  • Drake||

    You know that this story immediately collapsed and was discredited, right?
    http://pjmedia.com/tatler/2012.....-incident/

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Too late. You're talking about people who prefer a "narrative" to facts. The "narrative" is established: Romney is a gay-bashing bully and a meanie, while Saint Barack has a rainbow-colored halo over his head.

    Mission Accomplished.

  • Registration At Last!||

    pjmedia?

    What, couldn't find a credible rebuttal from TownHall or Drudge or DailyCaller?

  • ||

    Ahh, yes. If the headline doesn't fit your worldview, attack the source -- that's where the problem must lie.

    I guess this is why it takes fucking National Enquirer to break major political scandals these days.

  • ||

    Tell that to the people funding the "tell Mitt Romney that bullying is serious business" ads that I'm seeing on this very page, haha.

  • Peter L||

    I think Romney should play up this story. It shows he is a "cool kid", one of the "in crowd"; he is a fun guy, not the square that the media portrays him as.

  • Registration At Last!||

    "Malfoy for President!" Yeah, that's the ticket.

  • sweeterjan||

    As one New http://www.vendreshox.com/femm.....-c-15.html Jersey school administrator told the New York Times, "kids have to learn to deal with conflict." That goes double for adults.

  • joy||

    The law's broad wording would have the effect of reinvigorating campus speech codes that have come under http://www.riemeninnl.com/riem-dsquared-c-13.html constitutional challenge for violating the First Amendment.

  • jason||

    Rommey is giving to much attentions to the schooling system or we can say education system which is a good thing, now this party is also caring about the social protection of the child.

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