Mitt Romney's youthful "pranks" have been in the news for the past week or so, but in the rush to either absolve Romney for actions that took place decades ago or to crucify him based on same, many are missing the more compelling story:
There will be a time in everyone's life when we look back and think about where we stood on pivotal issues, and some of us will realize too late that we stood for too long on the wrong side of history. Some of us will have stood on the sidelines, waiting to take whichever side wins the day. The best of us will know that we were ahead of the curve.
There doesn't seem to be any doubt at all that Mitt Romney was involved in very serious acts of bullying as a young man -- but certainly not so young that he didn't know what he was doing. One of those acts is alleged by witnesses to have been sparked by Romney's intolerance towards a young man whose haircut "seemed" gay.
Unfortunately, this was a pervasive and accepted form of bigotry at the time. All of the other men who participated in the bullying have a vivid recollection of the event and claim to be haunted by it. Those men were all on the wrong side of history. It's admirable to apologize, even if the apology is too little, too late, but the truly brave and truly difficult choice would have been to step in and protect the victim. Any one of those men could have put a stop to the bullying.
Instead, Mitt Romney is reported to have held the scissors.
Today, Mitt Romney is once again on the wrong side of history. In response to President Obama's announcement that he (personally) supports marriage equality, Mitt Romney has doubled down to confirm his views that marriage should only be between one man and one woman.
Taking a principled stand is rarely easy. In fact, coming to terms with the choices you make -- especially when those choices are difficult and likely to come at a cost -- is probably the easiest way to know that you'll be able to look back on those choices ten years later, twenty years later, and realize that you stood on the right side of history.
Mitt Romney has once again chosen to stand on the Social Right side of history. He's making the very easy decision to appease his base based on a short term political reality: Support for marriage equality would doom his candidacy. President Obama, perhaps in a calculated move, perhaps out of a sincere belief that it's wrong to deny marriage equality to the LGBT community, or perhaps because his Vice President got there first, has taken a vocal stand. Such a declaration could well cost him a second term.
That's the risk.
One hopes that Obama looks to the future knowing that in 2012 -- win or lose -- he is standing on the right side of history. One day, when LGBT couples share in all the joys of marriage and all of the rights that our government bestows on people who take that leap alongside the person they love, he'll be able to look back and know that he was for such change before the votes were there; that he spoke up while half of the country was still standing on the wrong side of history.
History books won't dwell on Vice President Biden's comments, or politics, or whatever minutiae drove President Obama to take a momentous and unprecedented personal stand. Such details are the footnotes of history. No one would begrudge Romney's decision (had he the courage to make it) to stand up to bullies and bigotry when he was in school.
History is viewed through the lens of progress, and that lens is calibrated to flatter the bold.
Mitt Romney won't even be able to say that he stood by silently as progress marched past his antiquated views. His legacy will be one of opposition, action, and easy -- but extremely hurtful -- choices. Perhaps in twenty years he'll once again remember history differently than those who come to regret their role in delaying marriage equality. Perhaps he'll once again explain away his actions.
Perhaps that's not the hindsight we should look for in our President.