Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mitt Romney, bully of gay kids

So in today's Washington Post appears a story about how Mitt Romney, among other things, bullied a misfit gay kid while a high school student. Yes, I cringed at reading parts of it. On the other hand, these incidents happened more than forty years ago, and it is therefore probably wrong to infer much from them about Romney's character or fitness to serve as president in 2012.

It is clever framing on the Post's part because the anti-gay-bullying cause has been so much in the media and has become so popular among political progressives and liberals. For the record, I'm all in favor of gay kids (and all kids) not being bullied but am deeply skeptical of  recent federal efforts to rein in the problem (see generally pp. 128-212.) So there is a not-so-subtle message running throughout the Post piece: Romney is just another one of those big bad bullies that the Obama Department of Education is working so hard to stop.

I am actually not so terribly surprised that Romney was one of the evil bullying popular kids in high school, despite his recent squeaky-clean demeanor. The skills and demeanor that make one a popular kid in high school also tend to be those that draw people toward politics as adults. As Paul Graham would note, popular kids are good at learning at how to please others and also how to scapegoat the unpopular when it serves their interests. All skills that would serve a politician well. Nerds, by contrast,  tend to be good at making things -- what Graham calls the "real game" of adulthood -- and to be less skilled at flattering and pandering.  The libertarian economist Frederic Bastiat might say that popular kids tend to grow up to be good at earning political profits, whereas nerds tend to grow up to be better at earning economic profits. C.f. also Bryan Caplan's jock/nerd theory of history. So I'm not so disappointed about what this article says about Romney. But it may well say something about the limitations of voters and why, so often in politics, the worst get on top.

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