It is obvious that becoming a public figure requires the sacrifice of privacy. This is true for pop stars, actors, captains of industry, and politicians, but the weight of responsibility expected of them increases with their position.
Certainly pop star Katy Perry is not held to the same level of accountability as JPMorgan Chief Executive Jamie Dimon; no one would criticize someone who sings a song called "California Gurls" for losing $2 billion. And just as Chris Brown kept selling albums despite publicly posting a picture of his nether regions, New York Senator Anthony Weiner resigned from office for privately messaging his own.
What happens in their private lives, however, will inevitably surface. And then it's the public's choice to decide what is scandal and what is not, which deeds can be forgiven and which have irrevocable effects.
Former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton had tarnished reputations but continued to lead fulfilling political lives, despite Bush's 1976 DUI and Clinton's infamous Monica Lewinsky affair. Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Senator/ presidential candidate John Edwards both deeply suffered after their secret illegitimate children were discovered, and Edwards was even found to have used one million dollars of his campaign funds to hide his affair from his dying wife. Neither man will ever be able to recover from the shame.
Sometimes an incident is the result of a lapse of judgment and is not indicative of a person's true character, but other times, it is a deliberate and calculated event that does represent their personality. The real Mitt Romney isn't a bland, religious, naive politician, but a mean, calculated oppressor.
A month ago, an article in the Washington Post revealed that Romney was a playful, teasing teenager like many other boys his age, but with a mean streak. Allegations that Romney had relentlessly teased and taunted a number of effeminate boys at his elite boarding school arose soon after President Obama announced his support for gay marriage, and several of his friends from that period recalled one particularly troubling incident. Romney did not like that a quiet outsider had dyed his hair blond, so he forcibly chopped the hair off himself. He was mad that someone wasn't conforming to his ideal of "normal," a social construction of what should or shouldn't be permitted or tolerated. Romney couldn't handle a white boy who made himself different; what must he have done to blacks or Latinos? What does it say about his character that he couldn't communicate or even tolerate someone who was different from himself? Romney's defense for the incident was that he didn't remember it, but apologized anyway, saying that the 1960s were different times.
I can't say that I agree. The civil rights movement was well underway by the time Romney was in high school; he should have known better. He should have known that people everywhere were being accepted, integrated, and included. The gay rights movement also had begun, even though only now has made truly significant gains in anti-discrimination legislation that includes people with varying sexual orientations besides women and minorities, with an additional goal of federally approved same-sex marriage.
Women's rights activists have argued for equal rights for "the other half" of the population. Now we must argue for equal rights for the "other" 10% - 1 in 10 people identifies as being homosexual, and more than that identify with the range of LGBTQ that is now widely accepted with increasing awareness. Is Romney fighting for either of those groups? So a few gay people worked for Bain Capital — does that put him on par with Harvey Milk?
Romney's supporters have argued that he was only 15 when the school bully incident took place, that he was a teenager who didn't know any better and that boys will be boys. At 15-years old, a person is already aware of what is right and what is wrong. Fifteen-year-olds are eligible for life sentences in some states for murder. Fifteen-year-olds can drive, and get pregnant, and make their own decisions; they know what malice is and they know how to manipulate. Romney was cognizant of what he was doing and why he was doing it, according to the reports from his friends and classmates that watched or assisted him. It means that he is someone who is intolerant and cruel, who cannot be trusted. If at 15 he did not know kindness, why should he know it now? Immaturity is forgivable, even understandable; intolerance is not.
The "gotcha" media does bring to light certain aspects of their pasts that should be discussed and questioned, like Herman Cain's plethora of sexual harassment lawsuits and Barack Obama's frequent drug use as a teenager. It is healthy to think about what that means for the United States if the president has been high and drunk before, and question what the limit for substance abuse should be; it was unnecessary to examine his relationship with Genevieve Cook and why they broke up.
It's also excessive to spend time and resources trying to determine whether Romney has ever had a cigarette or a sip of caffeine and violated his religious beliefs. It is important, however, to know about their childhoods, their formative years, and their adult lives. It is important to have a sense of who this person is who may be the commander in chief. And if it is a person who forcibly chopped off someone's hair when they were 15 just because they were different, you better take a second look.
Boys will be boys, and homophobes will be homophobes — as Americans, we must be able to discern what is alarming and what is harmless from the pasts of those who we choose to represent us.