A Philosopher's Blog

Sins of the Past: Is Romney a Bully?

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 16, 2012
Governor Mitt Romney of MA

Governor Mitt Romney of MA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Washington Post recently published a story about an incident that took place during Mitt Romney’s years as a high school student. According to the story, Mitt Romney took offense at the long hair of fellow student John Lauber. Lauber was apparently often teased for being a nonconformist and was apparently suspected of being a homosexual. After commenting on Lauber’s hair, Romney took action a few days later. He and some friends tackled Lauber and pinned him down. Romney then cut Lauber’s hair. Apparently no disciplinary action was taken against Romney.

Naturally, some folks pointed out that the story was published close to the time President Obama expressed his support for same-sex marriage and they speculated that the Post might have acted for political reasons. That is, the goal was to contrast Romney’s attack on Lauber with Obama’s enlightened stance on same-sex marriage. While such speculation is certainly interesting, my main focus will not be on whether or not the charge against the Post is true or even on the ethics of timing stories for political advantage. Rather, I will focus on the matter of the sins of one’s past.

Intuitively, under normal circumstances a person is morally accountable for his actions. There are, of course, clear and obvious exceptions to this. In the case of teenage Romney, he seems to be fully accountable for what he did-after all, he does not seem to have been coerced or compelled into this action nor does it seem to involve a situation in which his responsibility would be significantly mitigated. As such, it would be unreasonable to claim that Romney was not morally accountable for his actions.

However, it is fair and reasonable to counter this view with the obvious: Romney did this when he was a teenage male. Research on the teenage brain has confirmed what most people already knew: teenagers have poor impulse control and they think rather differently than adults. Stereotypically, young males are supposed to be even more prone to bad behavior. Thinking back on my own teen years, the research nicely matches my own experiences.  I can recall numerous instances in which either I or other people did rather stupid things. In some cases I was the perpetrator (like the time I whacked a friend in the head with a wooden flail and drew a lot of blood) and sometimes I was the victim (like the time I had my shorts ripped off and was forced to run back to the school wearing just a jock and my shoes). For those readers who are beyond their teen years, I suspect that the same is true.

While it is tempting to excuse Romney on the basis of his brain being immature, this does not seem to be enough of a basis to completely excuse his behavior. After all, having a teenage brain does not preclude a person from making sound moral judgments. It does, however, mean that teenagers are not as good at it as adults and hence should be held somewhat less accountable than adults. John Stewart Mill noted the difference between children and adults in his writing on liberty in regards to the ability to make decisions (which impacted the degree of liberty they should be allowed). From a moral standpoint (and also a legal one) it seems rather important to consider the extent to which an immature brain actually limits judgment and impulse control. After all, it is to this degree that children would be morally (and legally) excused in their actions. This difference is, of course, already recognized in the law: in general, children are not tried as adults and in the United States, there are juvenile courts just for kids.

As might be imagined, it is not currently known exactly how much impact the immaturity of the brain has on judgments and behavior. However, it does seem sufficient for my purposes to say that teenage Romney’s immature brain probably had some impact on his decision to attack Lauber, just as it did in my decision to whack my friend with a flail. However, it seems reasonable to claim that teenage Romney should not be held as accountable as an adult would be in similar circumstances. Likewise for the teenage flail wielding LaBossiere. I will admit that I am unsure of the degree to which accountability should be reduced, but it does seem quite sensible to hold children less accountable than adults and this should clearly extend to Romney (and me).

In addition to the question of the accountability of the moment (that is, how accountable a person is for the action at the time of the action), there is also the question of what the sins of the past reveal about the person of the present. In the case of Mitt Romney, the clear concern is what this incident from his teenage years tells the people of the United States about his fitness to be president. While Romney’s case is rather extreme, similar questions can be asked of each person. For example, what does the flail incident reveal about my fitness to be a professor of philosophy?

When assessing past incidents such as these in regards to current character, another important point of concern is the seriousness of the action. For example, the fact that I got into a couple minor scuffles in school does not show that I am a person of bad character now. As another example, if someone committed unprovoked murder as a teenager, then this would indicate that they could very likely be an evil person today.

In Romney’s case, the incident is somewhat serious. After all, he was involved in what would be considered assault and battery if an adult had done it. Likewise for the time I whacked my friend with the fail (or the time my shorts were stolen). As such, Romney’s incident and my own seem to be matter worth considering when assessing current character. While it rather oversimplifies things, it does make sense to say that we are what we did. That is, that the person I am now is the result of what I did in the past. Because of this, my past actions (and anyone else’s) would thus be relevant to assessing who I am now.

But, of course, there is also the obvious fact that a person is more than just a mere sum of past actions. These actions impact the person and what a person does can, in fact, result in a change so that they would no longer do what they once did. That is, people can change for better (or worse). As such, it would not do to simply look at a specific incident and take it to define the person of today. Rather, it must be taken in context of the person’s life. How a person responds to the past action also seems rather relevant to determining the person’s current character.

In my own case, and the case of my friends, we generally managed to become decent adults. While I whacked my friend with a flail, I grew up to be a rather calm professor of philosophy. My friends turned out rather well, too.  Naturally, I remember the flail incident (and others) very well and I feel rather bad about what I did. This is one reason why I became the calm philosophy professor I am today who has little inclination to strike people with a flail. As such, the flail incident does not show that I am currently a person of bad character.

In the case of Romney, there is currently no evidence that he is now prone to attacking people and cutting their hair. That is, he does not seem to be a bully. What is, however, somewhat worrisome is that he initially denied remembering the incident in question.

On the one hand, a case could be made that Romney honestly did not remember. After all, people forget things. No doubt there are some rotten things that I did as a kid that I have forgotten that other people (such as my parents or sister) remember quite well. Perhaps Romney honestly did not remember. Naturally, some folks might see this as a sign of bad character in that the attack on another person did not make enough of an impression to remain in his mind. After all, I vividly remember hitting my friend with the flail. Of course, I am younger than Romney, so perhaps my memory has yet to fade.

On the other hand, a stock tactic for politicians is to claim they do not remember an incident in which they (allegedly) did wrong. This always strikes me as an odd tactic, especially when there is adequate evidence for the incident and the incident is such that someone should remember it (barring mental deterioration). A claim to not remember a misdeed certainly says something about a person’s current character. Admitting to the misdeed, showing remorse and an improvement in character is, I would contend, says something far better about a person. Unless, of course, it is just a clever move to look good. Perhaps Romney deserves at least some credit-after all, he did not engage in an insincere theater of contrition act.

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71 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on May 16, 2012 at 7:29 am

    It was 1965. Things were a lot different then. What is the fallacy called when you apply present day standards to actions that took place in the past?

    • dhammett said, on May 16, 2012 at 11:18 am

      Q: “What is the fallacy called when you apply present day standards to actions that took place in the past?”
      A: Recognition that we’ve made progress and that some people, young and old, were farther behind the curve than others., perhaps? Take the South in the ’50s. Slavery in the 19th century.

      I’m more concerned, however with Romney’s memory. HIs first reaction was to forget to remember the incident. That sounds like a weakness, not a fallacy.

      I’m old. I forget names. And words occasionally. I haven’t forgotten being bullied or bullying in school. I’m not running for president.

      • T. J. Babson said, on May 16, 2012 at 8:15 pm

        If it is now fair game to go back to high school and early adulthood, I’m looking forward to learning much more about Obama’s drug abuse and nicotine habit.

        • dhammett said, on May 16, 2012 at 10:07 pm

          Refresh our memories. Has Obama denied remembering his “drug ‘abuse’ and nicotine habit [otherwise known as smoking]”?

          I’d be interested to know what other anti-social behaviors Romney participated in that he has forgotten. . .

          • T. J. Babson said, on May 16, 2012 at 10:12 pm

            I can see why you want to keep the focus on Romney’s high school pranks.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm

              Attacking a kid is a bit more than a prank.

            • T. J. Babson said, on May 17, 2012 at 2:38 pm

              Basically on par with giving someone a wedgie…

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 18, 2012 at 9:38 am

              I would suspect that cutting someone’s hair has a somewhat longer impact. The kid probably had to go pay for a haircut to even it out.

            • T. J. Babson said, on May 17, 2012 at 10:35 pm

              Attacking is what Trayvon Martin did to George Zimmermann. In 1965, pinning someone down and cutting off a few locks of hair was known as hijinx…

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 18, 2012 at 10:07 am

              On the one hand, I do recall from my childhood that violence between boys that was short of actual bloodletting or broken bones was often seen as “hijinks” or boys being boys. In my neighborhood, we boys had ongoing wars involving BB guns, slingshots, sticks, fists and rocks. At the time, it all seemed natural. So, I do “get” the idea that it was just hijinks.

              On the other hand, just because we all accepted violence as okay because it was “boys being boys”, it does not follow that we were right.

            • dhammett said, on May 18, 2012 at 4:36 pm

              “Attacking is what Trayvon Martin did to George Zimmermann.”
              You’re basing your assumption that Martin attacked Zimmerman on what established facts? Last I heard, the prosecutors have determined that Zimmerman did not need to exit his vehicle. I’ve heard no evidence that Martin pulled him from the vehicle. Martin was unarmed; Zimmerman had a weapon. Both (one post-mortem) showed signs of a physical encounter.

              Allow me to pose another possibility.
              “Attacking is what George Zimmerman did to Trayvon Martin. . . But Trayvon Martin won the ^physical^ confrontation. In this scenario Zimmerman takes Martin down first. Then Martin,despite his weight disadvantage*** achieves a reversal. Two points! Then Zimmerman, while pinned, is able to pull and and shoot his weapon. Match over.

              Here’s another possibility: Let’s wait for the all the evidence and the trial. Then the people who disagree on the verdict can continue bitching and the rest of us can get on with our lives.

              ***We can’t discount the fact that Zimmerman outweighed Martin by 25-35 lbs. He had a 2 or 3 weight class advantage over Martin.

            • magus71 said, on May 18, 2012 at 4:42 pm

              “I’ve heard no evidence that Martin pulled him from the vehicle. Martin was unarmed; Zimmerman had a weapon.”

              It’s not illegal to exit one’s vehicle.

              It’s not looking good for Martin:



            • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 19, 2012 at 10:50 am

              Based on the evidence available via the media, it looks like the prosecution will have a difficult time getting beyond reasonable doubt. After all, while Zimmerman did not need to leave his vehicle and his decision to do so did play a causal role in Martin’s death, it does not seem strong enough to be a “but for” cause in terms of establishing criminal guilt.

              Both sides can present a plausible case. After all, the evidence is consistent with both stories (1)that Zimmerman was attacked and defended himself or 2)Zimmerman provoked Martin into acting in self-defense and then killed him). But, the prosecutor needs more than a plausible scenario, at least from an objective standpoint.

            • magus71 said, on May 18, 2012 at 4:45 pm

              Bush outlawed water-boarding; Obama started nuking US citizens from the blue. It’s OK, though, he’s a Democrat.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 18, 2012 at 4:56 pm

              You’ll note the critical posts I did about the targeted assassinations. While I support Obama over Romney, I do not agree with everything his administration does.

            • T. J. Babson said, on May 21, 2012 at 8:03 am

              Video of Trayvon Martin participating in an underground “Fight Club.”

            • dhammett said, on May 21, 2012 at 10:10 am

              Which one’s Anthony, which one’s Curtis, and which one is Trayvon?

              Was the film taken before or after the Zimmerman incident? I’d like to know whether the “Trayvon” reference was made by someone in the crowd simply referencing Martin after the shooting as some kind of ‘folk hero’ or if the speaker was even in the crowd. Perhaps a sound mixer was used to overlay the comment. . .

              Looks like this “TRAYVON” gets the worst of it in a fight with someone who appears about 20lbs lighter than Martin Zimmerman. . .

              The video quality is a bitch, too. Work on that for us.

              In short, until those questions are answered, this vid is useless and simply inflammatory. Isn’t it?

            • T. J. Babson said, on May 21, 2012 at 11:07 am

              De-flammatory would be more accurate. The flames were whipped up by people like Sharpton, et al.

            • dhammett said, on May 21, 2012 at 12:51 pm

              “De-flammatory would be more accurate. The flames were whipped up by people like Sharpton, et al”

              So. Give the evasive nature of your response, the vid you supplied is not actually a video of Martin? Thanks for the time-waster.

              The incident, and the nature of the incident set the spark:The Florida ‘stand your ground’ law. A white-on- black-on-black-on-white incident. Lack of information—which is, as we know, a fertile ground for conspiracy types.

              Even Sharpton can’t fan the flames until there are flames, or at least a spark. At any rate, Sharpton’s irrelevant here, as he is most of the time. He’s a talk show host and a minister. I wouldn’t be surprised if he sells cars and insurance on the side.

          • T. J. Babson said, on May 16, 2012 at 10:21 pm

            Sure, the more transparency the better. Let’s start with Obama’s grades at Columbia. Let’s interview some professors and classmates. Let it all hang out.

            • dhammett said, on May 17, 2012 at 9:51 am

              TJ: There’s a good goal you should set for yourself. You could become the Orly Taitz of the Obama-grade-deniers.


              Read about Obama’s college years and time at Harvard Law School and JD magna cum laude graduate and all that. The article is footnoted, but Taitz-types might not be satisfied.


              My suspicion is that Obama isn’t particularly fond of the particular kind of profiling that these types of controversies represent. Thus, if someone questions his origins, he’s going to make it as difficult as possible for them to satisfy their itch. By now, ‘most’ people have given up the ghost on the birth certificate idiocy.

              Then there was the teleprompter phase. All part of the underlying story that Obama isn’t intelligent enough, for one reason or another, to speak without one. Of course, many great leaders don’t speak off the cuff all the time. If they don’t use the teleprompter, they have the text before them and they look down and look up as they deliver the message. We know, for example, that Lincoln wrote out The Gettysburg Address. . . Of course we do Do you think he didn’t take the text with him when he spoke? Do you think if Abe were a president in the 21st century, with all the speeches (fundraising, Rosegarden, policy , etc.) that a modern president must deliver that he’d eschew the teleprompter or complete text and “wing it” instead?
              Did Obama or any other speaker use teleprompters in the ’08 debates.

              Then there are the grades. In my opinion, this is Obama-profiling again. He doesn’t look like a person who might have graduated JD magna cum laude, so we need to see his grades. So Obama resists, as he has in the past. He doesn’t like being figuratively pushed up against a wall and frisked when he knows he’s right.

              Does Obama say he’s forgotten what his grades were??
              Perhaps we’re profiling Romney. . .:) He’s a rich kid. He’s so formal, his hair gets a spit shine each morning. He just looks like someone who’d help gang up on someone who is different.

              Pssst! Wouldn’t it be a great strategy to allow such folderol to continue as a way to deflect from real issues like the economy and jobs?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 17, 2012 at 1:37 pm

              He must have done reasonably well-after all,he graduated and went to Harvard Law. Given that he lacked big money and a major legacy connection, he probably had to get by on doing his work.

              There is an interesting irony in asking about the grades of a man who is also bashed for being “professor” Obama and being an intellectual.

            • T. J. Babson said, on May 17, 2012 at 3:13 pm


              Jerzy Kosinski Predicted It . . . Chauncey Gardiner as President

              When the odd, troubled, complex genius Jerzy Kosinski wrote his novel Being There some forty years ago, he probably never really thought that it would be a story of things to come. His tale of the hermit-like Chance the gardner who utters simplistic cliches borrowed from television but is taken for brilliant by the press and the political elite is in many respects the story of Obama.

              As with Chance the gardner, who eventually becomes Chauncey Gardiner, we have in Barry Obama a man with no discernible past, no apparent knowledge of the world except what he gets from television and movies, and the most banal, pedestrian, and foolish bromides imaginable. In addition, the great college educated masses lap it up as brilliant. Listen to his typical speech and you will hear the nonsense pour forth; the silly slogans about class warfare seem taken from some Hollywood movie or MSNBC documentary that runs endlessly in his head.

              Unlike Chauncey, however, Obama sees what he believes and tries along with other liberals to get us all to share his mad delusions, delusions that insist we live in a racist, and sick country. I think it’s time to send Chauncey back to his garden.


            • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 18, 2012 at 9:45 am

              ” we have in Barry Obama a man with no discernible past”

              Do you mean aside from his books, his mother, his father, his grandparents, his childhood, his teen years, his college years, his law school years and so on? He seems to have a past as discernible as anyone. I’m not sure what the basis is for the claim that he is a man of mystery.

              ” no apparent knowledge of the world except what he gets from television and movies,”
              Do you mean aside from living outside the US? Plus, he seems to know a bit about other countries-certainly more than Herman Cain.

              “and the most banal, pedestrian, and foolish bromides imaginable.”
              Well, he is a politician. However, I think that people have said things far more banal, pedestrian and foolish. And I can imagine much worse.

              ” In addition, the great college educated masses lap it up as brilliant. Listen to his typical speech and you will hear the nonsense pour forth; the silly slogans about class warfare seem taken from some Hollywood movie or MSNBC documentary that runs endlessly in his head.”

              Class warfare? I know that Fox seems to take it as almost anything the rich might not like, but that is mere hyperbole applied to Obama. He is upper class, his friends are mostly upper class and he is in quite tight with the upper classes. He does, however, accept that the taxes should be returned to the pre-Bush cuts and that corporations should be regulated at least a little bit. That is hardly class warfare. Now if he was having the rich rounded up and shot, then we could talk about class warfare.

            • FOOBAR said, on May 17, 2012 at 10:45 pm

              “There is an interesting irony in asking about the grades of a man who is also bashed for being “professor” Obama and being an intellectual.”

              What has one to do with the other? Plenty of people with poor grades go on to be professors. The right connections, the right “perspectives”, and (shudder the thought) the right affirmative-action specs, amongst other “qualifications” can overshadow marginal grades. I know many C-students who were perceived as being “intellectuals” when circulating in the right social pools.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 18, 2012 at 10:12 am

              Actually it is rather hard to become a professor with bad grades. Accredited grad schools typically requires a minimum GPA of 3.0 to remain in the program and the standard today is that faculty must have a terminal degree to be professors. Naturally, someone could have slipped through the system and ended up as a professor-but this is rather rare.

              As far as what they have to do with each other, my point is not that it is impossible for someone to have bad grades and be called “professor” or be regarded by some as an intellectual. My point is that it is somewhat ironic that Obama is bashed both for allegedly being a poor student (and presumably stupid) while also being bashed for being a professor-like person in regards to being an actual intellectual.

              He could, of course, be bashed in a consistent way by saying that he had bad grades, is a professor in a bad way (lecturing while being detached from reality) and is a mere pseudo-intellectual.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm

          That, I think, has always been fair game. Obama did admit to smoking and doing some cocaine. If smoking disqualifies him, we’ll have a limited pool of candidates.

          • T. J. Babson said, on May 17, 2012 at 3:20 pm

            When did Obama start smoking? When did he quit? Did he really quit? How much cocaine did he use? Did he use crack? Who was his dealer? Did he use pot? Did he inhale? What courses did he take at Columbia? Did he write an honor’s thesis? If so, can we read it? When did he become a Marxist? When did he stop being a Marxist? Why did he stop? Why was he editor of a law review without (ever) writing any law articles?

            The questions are endless, and if the press had any self respect, they would be finding out the answers.

            • dhammett said, on May 17, 2012 at 4:12 pm

              TJ: Here your opportunities for research are endless. Your first assignment, Mr. Phelps, should you decide to accept it, is to determine whether Obama’s selection was based on scores, grades and scores, or if it was a discretionary choice.
              “Fourteen editors (two from each 1L section) are selected based on a combination of their first-year grades and their competition scores. Twenty editors are selected based solely on their competition scores. The remaining editors are selected on a discretionary basis.”
              If you can ignore the ridiculously politicized world of “thediplomad”*#, you can continue by asking yourself why you wasted your time completing this mission.

              Or you could petition Fox and some other representatives of the media to do what it’s so good at doing: pointing out and looking for dirt where there is none.
              Just stop, please, with the pointless innuendos and get down to facts.

              *# EX: “bromides!” Oh my God! Ask the poster from “thediplomad” which politician he can point to who does not repeat ideas until they become “bromides”. Mitt? He MAY be able to avoid bromides because he’s forgotten what he said , and therefore he can’t repeat it. Or perhaps he’s dropped his etch-a-sketch. :)**## Anyone Mitt debated? Any sitting Congressmen or Senators? Hell, even if they were capable of avoiding bromides, by doing so they’d be demonstrating an utter failure to adapt to their audience. The bumper sticker masses.

              ##**Pardon the personal attack .The diplomad did it so often and shamelessly I thought I’d give it a shot.

            • dhammett said, on May 17, 2012 at 4:17 pm

              The **## after my attack on Mitt is OK. My request for forgiveness should be preceded by **## NOT by ##**.

            • dhammett said, on May 17, 2012 at 6:32 pm

              Wow! This is a BOMBSHELL of the first magnitude!!! My eyes were immediately drawn to the following:

              “It is evidence–not of the President’s foreign origin, but that Barack Obama’s public persona has perhaps been presented differently at different times.”
              “. . .has ^PERHAPS^ been ‘presented’ differently” . By whom? Was that individual competent. Did he she have possession of all available information?Was he/she working in the best interest of the author? Is the information just plain wrong?

              “He indicated that while “almost nobody” wrote his or her own biography, the non-athletes in the booklet, whom “the agents deal[t] with on a daily basis,” were “probably” approached to approve the text as presented.”
              ^”PROBABLY”^… So the material contained therein, including the biographical material, might never have been viewed and approved by Obama. Or maybe not. Who cares, right?

              “The errant Obama biography in the Acton & Dystel booklet does ^NOT^ contradict the authenticity of Obama’s birth certificate. Moreover, several contemporaneous accounts of Obama’s background describe Obama as having been born in Hawaii.” Uh oh!

              Being a little more skeptical than you, I’ll wait until the originals of the booklet presented in this piece are vetted by experts—until the anti-birthers put as much time and money into proving beyond a shadow of legal doubt that the as birther-whackos have in to proving theirs.
              Meanwhile, we always have Joe Arpaio. Let’s see where he leads us.

            • T. J. Babson said, on May 17, 2012 at 10:31 pm

              Obama is staggeringly dishonest..his whole life story is fiction. Chauncey Gardiner indeed.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 18, 2012 at 9:51 am

              No one really quits smoking.

              Major academic works are generally available (for example, if you really need to damage your brain you can read my dissertation at the OSU library or get it on ILL). Not sure about undergrad papers-I have to keep the one’s that students do not pick up for a year, then I toss them.

              If he is a Marxist, he is an odd sort of Marxist who likes book royalties and a significant income.

              Editors often do not write for what they edit, so if he actually did not write articles then that would not be weird or unusual.

            • dhammett said, on May 18, 2012 at 4:42 pm

              The url is confusing. Are you sure some “editor” or blogger didn’t get confused? I heard by the net grapevine that Obama was still-born in Kenya in 2003. . . and his mother ate the fetus as part of some pagan ritual. Can you elaborate?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 16, 2012 at 12:53 pm

      That isn’t actually a fallacy. It could be an error in moral theory, though. After all, moral relativism is the view that morality is relative to the culture and if that is correct, then we would be in error to apply our standards to the past (assuming their standards were different). Of course, this also entails that it would be an error to apply our moral standards to other cultures. So, for example, no matter what people in other cultures do (like try to kill us), they would be right (in their culture) and all we can say is that if they were in our culture, then they would be wrong.

      You might be thinking of:

      The Historian’s fallacy

      This fallacy, which is credited to David Hackett Fischer, occurs when it is assumed that people in the past viewed events with the same information or perspective as those analyzing these past events from a (relative) future. The fallacy has the following form:

      1) From the present perspective event A in time T is seen as X (a good idea, significant, a bad idea, etc.)
      2) Therefore event A was (or should have) been seen as X at time T.

      The X in the form above can be many sorts of assessments, such as being a good idea, being of great significance, being a bad idea, being easily foreseeable, and so on.
      This sort of reasoning is a fallacy because it is an error to infer that people in the past would (or should) see the events of their time from the perspective of those in their relative future. Obviously, the people in the past do not have the benefit of hindsight that those looking back possess.
      It is not a fallacy to analyze past events from a present perspective, provided that the analysis is done in a way that attributes to those involved only the information they could reasonably be expected to have at the time. For example, suppose that Sally marries Bill and he seems fine until he becomes dangerously unstable. In this case, it would not be a fallacy to claim that it turned out to be a bad idea for Sally to marry Bill. It would be a fallacy to judge Sally as if she knew then what she only learned now. To use another example, if Sally did have adequate evidence that Bill was (or would become) dangerously unstable, then one would not commit this fallacy if one were to argue that she made a bad choice when she married him.
      It also is not a fallacy to be critical of a person for what they reasonable should have known. For example, if Sally did not know about Bill being a psychopath because she married him a week after meeting him, it would be reasonable to argue that she made a poor choice in not getting to know more about him. This does not require having a perspective available only from the future and hence would not be fallacious.

  2. […] Sins of the Past: Is Romney a Bully? (aphilosopher.wordpress.com) […]

  3. FRE said, on May 16, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    If Romney had acknowledged his previous bullying behavior, made it clear that he regretted it, and clearly stated that he is strongly opposed to bullying, I would overlook his past behavior and attribute it to the immaturity of youth. However, he denies remembering it and, because the extreme nature of the incident, I do not believe that he has forgotten it. Also, he has treated it as a minor matter, which it is not. The long-term damage that bullying can do has been well established. Because when I was in high school I myself was practically terrorized by being bullied for four years, I personally know what it can do.

    Because of Romney’s likely lying about such an important matter, and because of his trivializing it, I believe that he has a significant character flaw which should be taken into consideration when determining his fitness to be president.

  4. magus71 said, on May 17, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    I believe Obama is a disturbingly dishonest person. That matters more to me than pranks.

    • dhammett said, on May 17, 2012 at 5:06 pm

      Interesting opinion.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 18, 2012 at 10:01 am

      Aside from being a politician, what is the evidence for his being dishonest to a level that would qualify as disturbing? Is he, for example, more dishonest than Rick Santorum (or did, for example, Rick just honestly think he was right about colleges not offering American history)? Is he more dishonest than Romney? Or does Romney honestly change his views on the issues as needed?

      • magus71 said, on May 18, 2012 at 2:17 pm

        “more dishonest than Rick Santorum”


        “more dishonest than Romney”



        Entire books could be written as to why I believe this. Indeed, many have been written. But those who wanted Obama as President blithely shrug off issues I see as disturbing.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 18, 2012 at 4:55 pm

          You should write one-it would sell well on Amazon-check out the top books in philosophy and politics.

          • T. J. Babson said, on May 19, 2012 at 6:54 pm

            But not everyone shares Mr. Kurtz’s curiosity. At the beginning of the Metaphysics, Aristotle observes than human beings are by nature curious animals: they ask questions and want to know the truth about the world around them. But not all men. One of the great oddnesses of the 2008 campaign was the code of omerta enforced by the the legacy media about anything having to do with Obama’s past. Where was he born? Don’t know, don’t care. What were his college years like? Can’t you move on to something important, like the time Mitt Romney ragged some hippie in high school? Why did Obama say that former Weatherman Bill Ayers was “just a guy in the neighborhood” when he was plainly an important political mentor, if not also the ghostwriter, for the future president?

            And on and on and on. There are a lot of questions to be asked about Barack Obama. Why are his college records sealed? Why can’t we see a certified copy of his birth certificate? Why are his medical records sealed? I’ve been told that his Social Security registration was issued by Connecticut, which would be odd, but cannot check because that too is sealed. Obama worked as a lawyer, but we don’t know who he worked for because his client list is sealed. Why is it that Michelle Obama can no longer practice as an attorney? We know the fact but not the reason.

            As I say, last time around, general infatuation guaranteed that Obama got more or less a free pass from the legacy media. I suspect there will be much more curiosity as the summer progresses and we get into the campaign. For one thing, the nimbus of inviolability around Obama has been seriously breached. He is no longer the pristine knight come to lower the oceans, fix the economy, and “fundamentally transform” the United States of America into a green paradise where everyone suckles happily at the federal mammary gland except the evil coal producers who are miserable bankrupts. No, I suspect that even The Washington Post, even The New York Times, will have to take a peek or two under the covers of the tale of this international man of mystery.


            • dhammett said, on May 19, 2012 at 8:18 pm

              TJ: Your medical records, your Social Security information, and your college records, please (only legally certified originals accepted if you wish to be believed) . . .

            • dhammett said, on May 19, 2012 at 8:35 pm

              I would like to see non-mainstream-media (NMSM) put as much effort into coming up with solid, verifiable, damning evidence as they’ve put into creating as yet unverified conspiracy theories.
              I’ve been told the NMSM can investigate,too. In fact, their principal aim, if they are indeed fair and balanced, should be to investigate–not to instigate. Why have the NMSM’s attempts to provide proof of the charges been such miserable, laughable failures for the last 4 years?

            • magus71 said, on May 19, 2012 at 9:55 pm


              Quote of the day:

              “The Breitbart Crew are kind of like illegal immigrants — doing reporting Columbia journalism grads won’t do. And doing it quite well”


            • T. J. Babson said, on May 19, 2012 at 11:38 pm

              I think it is clear that BHO will adjust his biography so that it will help him with whatever he is doing at the time. Selling books– he was born in Kenya. Running for president– he was born in Hawaii. Whatever helps him at the time is the “truth.”

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 21, 2012 at 2:13 pm

              The “born in Kenya” promo blurb was debunked. Also, Obama seems to have been consistent about where he was born in terms of what he claimed. Naturally, he is a politician so the truth is somewhat flexible. But he seems more consistent than his competition. After all, if one sees a promo-blurb written by someone else as evidence of a campaign of deceit, then surely the inconsistency of Mitt (Mittconsistency, perhaps) would be shocking evidence of an epic campaign of deceit. You might recall how Newt and others were bashing Romney on this very point. Or does that all magically disappear now that Mitt is the only Republican standing?

            • dhammett said, on May 20, 2012 at 9:22 am

              I thought the Republican primaries established that without a doubt Romney is the Etch=a-Sketch candidate in this election. . .!

            • T. J. Babson said, on May 21, 2012 at 7:30 pm

              “The “born in Kenya” promo blurb was debunked.”

              In what sense? Do you deny that Obama’s Acton & Dystel bio read “born in Kenya” from 1991-2007?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 22, 2012 at 11:41 am

              Two responses.
              In the sense that it does not prove that Obama was not born here.

              Of course, the newly created issue is that there is some misdeed here.

              First, “He indicated that while “almost nobody” wrote his or her own biography, the non-athletes in the booklet, whom “the agents deal[t] with on a daily basis,” were “probably” approached to approve the text as presented.”

              Unless we know that 1) Obama wrote his biography or 2) it was, in fact, checked with him, then it cannot be reasonably inferred that this is clear evidence of Obama being “up to something.” It could be simply an error on the part of the person who wrote it.

              Second, even if it is true that Obama was aware of this and decided to present himself as being born in Kenya then, this does not seem to be a substantial scandal. The idea of people reinventing themselves throughout life when it is expedient is not an unusual one (witness the New Romney) and, provided that it is not used in what can legitimately be considered scams (such as financial misdeeds) it does not seem a serious offense.

              Naturally if this factual error can be laid at his doorstep and it can be shown he lied, then that would be a mark against him. But, as far as its seriousness, it would not seem to be a major problem or even a shocking revelation that a politician tries to craft an image and employs untruths in this process. Wrong? certainly. A major wrong that should count against voting for New Obama him in favor of New Romney? No.

            • dhammett said, on May 21, 2012 at 8:58 pm


              From the literary agent who wrote the blurb:
              “You’re undoubtedly aware of the brouhaha stirred up by Breitbart about the erroneous statement in a client list Acton & Dystel published in 1991 (for circulation within the publishing industry only) that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. This was nothing more than a fact checking error by me — an agency assistant at the time. There was never any information given to us by Obama in any of his correspondence or other
              communications suggesting in any way that he was born in Kenya and not Hawaii. I hope you can communicate to your readers that this was a simple mistake and nothing more.”

              This fits nicely with the topic of discussion. Here we see someone REMEMBERING a past error and and apologizing for it. Romney ^can’t ^ remember what he did –even though all other members of a group who participated in the hair-cutting with him have admitted to it . Perhaps the others are suffering from group false memories. Many think because Mitt can’t remember he probably didn’t do it.

              Now I wonder if the same people will think that the agency assistant who remembers and apologizes is suffering from a false memory? Perhaps her shrink (and surely she must go to a shrink, right?) planted this false memory, knowing that at some point this issue might arise. Was that shrink paid by the Obama campaign? Inquiring minds need to know. . .

            • T. J. Babson said, on May 21, 2012 at 9:14 pm

              I could believe this if it were a one-off, but the “fact checking error” lasted 16 years and BHO’s bio was changed several times in the interim.

              You believe in the “fact-checking error,” but you find it hard to believe that Romney didn’t remember a minor incident in high school from 50 years ago.

            • dhammett said, on May 21, 2012 at 10:33 pm

              / / /the “fact checking error” lasted 16 years and BHO’s bio was changed several times in the interim.”
              So you don’t believe the agent who wrote the blurb? Your opinion. Your choice.

              That the error lasted 16 years may be due to the fact that no one was looking for it with the same desperate interest as the birther groups.
              Please note, however, that Mitt Romney’s involvement in the haircutting incident went undisclosed for much longer than 16 years. And there were no drooling packs of what magus might call “fruit loops” seeking them out.

              Do you actually believe he was born in Kenya? Or do you think he’s an opportunist who alters his story depending on the political winds?

              Whatever your response, this brings us back to Mitt the Etch-a- Sketch Amnesiac candidate.
              On this point surely you can trust Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. . . especially Rick. The man possesses the soundest moral principles . Or so it seems. Rick here:
              And here:”. . .we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate for the future.”

            • magus71 said, on May 22, 2012 at 6:19 am


              I was thinking the exact same thing when I read the “debunked” post.

              Mike, inconsistency is a far cry from deceit.

              Just throw a bone to dog for once. Obama is very deceitful.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 22, 2012 at 11:47 am

              Inconsistency does not equal deceit, of course. After all, people can be inconsistent from ignorance. For example, a person might sincerely hold two beliefs that are logically inconsistent. People can also be inconsistent because they forget what they said before or from making an error.

              Deceit does, of course, entail intent and inconsistency does not. Given that New Romney changed his views to match what would get him selected it would seem that he could also be charged with deceit on the same sort of grounds you want to charge Obama. Now, if you want to say that crafting a persona for gain is deceit, then New Obama is surely deceitful. But this will not give Romney an edge over him-after all, the paint on New Romney’s carefully crafted persona is still wet.

  5. dhammett said, on May 17, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Mike: “Naturally, I remember the flail incident (and others) very well and I feel rather bad about what I did.”
    “Admitting to the misdeed, showing remorse and an improvement in character is, I would contend, says something far better about a person.”
    “. . .he did not engage in an insincere theater of contrition act.”
    Point is, you feel contrition. Until Romney remembers, he can’t feel or demonstrate contrition.

    There’s no equivalency between the act Romney was involved in and the acts that precipitated the two great political apologies below, but neither apology would have been made if the one apologizing did not recall the incident(s) in question .
    The settings vary here. Both speakers obviously gave considerable forethought to these presentations. Sincerity is for us to judge based on the nature of the situation, the past of the speaker, etc.

  6. magus71 said, on May 18, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Mike, what do you think about this video?

    • magus71 said, on May 19, 2012 at 10:33 am

      Apparently no one has an opinion about this video. Peculiar on this blog.

      • dhammett said, on May 19, 2012 at 5:52 pm

        I’m invited to respond?

        Here’s a link to add a different perspective to what you take from your youtube vid.
        Read the whole thing . It’s only two pages. I watched your vid;Read my quotations. Psst! They’re from another blog, but TJ’s never been particularly averse to presenting info from other blogs for our consideration. . .
        “. . .my wife is from Kenya, and is of the Luo tribe. I’m anglo American, by the way and my family lives in America.
        “My wife is definitely NOT of the ATS kind of crowd and doesn’t care much if Obama is legal or not so take this as personal experience, without any political bias.
        I told my wife of Michelle Obama’s statement that Barack went to his home country of Kenya (rough quote; ATS thread and video on the subject HERE). I asked her what that means in her Luo culture and I found her answer so interesting it warranted it’s own thread! To a Luo tribe, Kenyan man, the “home country” is the country in which his father was born. She went on to say that our daughter (half Luo, Kenyan, half anglo American) would call her home country Kenya if I (the Dad) had been Kenyan, and not her Mom, even though she was born in the U.S. . .”

        And this:

        “I think a lot of things are being misconstrued here. He has Kenyan blood in his veins – so he has some value for that. The point my wife made about the term “home country” is that it MEANS “the country my father is from” – it’s a definition.
        “We can speculate all day long if he speaks Kiswahili or Luo, or where he grew up. There are a lot of hidden facts here in my opinion.
        “My point in posting was that we can’t take Michelle’s use of “home country” as proof of anything – whether using black American custom or Luo vernacular.”
        reply posted on 12-4-2010 @ 06:48 AM by ISHAMAGI
        Originally posted by TheWalkingFox
        reply to post by truthquest

        “First, English and Swahili are both the official language of kenya. Swahili is more of a “trade language” and so English gets preference most of the time – Kenya’s official documents are printed in English, rather than kiswahili
        ” Second, it’s a colloquial turn of phrase.
        ” Third, I’ve known a fair number of African-Americans who point to a particular African country, or Africa as a whole, and call it their “home country” -even the ones I know for a damn fact were born and grew up next door.
        “Along the same lines, I know lots of whites who still call Ireland their “home country” – I think people need to stop grasping those straws so hard. ”

        I prefer the above to the comments that accompany the youtube vid.

        • FRE said, on May 19, 2012 at 6:04 pm

          That reminds me of what someone in Fiji wrote; I lived in Fiji from 1994 to 2004.

          He waxed enthusiastic about his “home” island and told how good life was there. It turned out that he had never even once been there but considered it home because his parents were from there. So, even if Obama referred to Kenya has his home country, that in itself would not mean that he was born in Kenya.

        • magus71 said, on May 19, 2012 at 9:51 pm

          “I think a lot of things are being misconstrued here. He has Kenyan blood in his veins – so he has some value for that.”

          Oh yes. I have Dutch and French blood and my veins. My wife regularly tells her friends that my home country is the Netherlands. My book publicist make even make a not of it on my book cover.

          “My point in posting was that we can’t take Michelle’s use of “home country” as proof of anything – whether using black American custom or Luo vernacular.”

          Of course not. But is anyone who questions his place of birth at this point really a fruit loop? I don’t think so. At first I thought the idea ridiculous. Then I began to notice how Obama handled it. I began to think that it would be rather easy to show where he was born. I also think that as America’s foremost public servant, he should have wanted to prove it. He didn’t want to prove it. This began to make me uncomfortable. As a person who dealt with liars on a regular basis in a previous job, I began to get vibes I didn’t like. And it’s been one thing after another ever since.

          Illegal aliens find ways to fake American birth all the time. How much easier is it for a well-connected and educated person to do so? There is quite a bit of circumstantial evidence against him. At this point I do not consider it out of the realm of possibility. Call me nuts.

          The brochure for his book was updated several times. Not until is Kenyan birthplace became a political disadvantage in 2007 was it changed.

  7. magus71 said, on May 19, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    The fact that Romney’s pranks even make the news is evidence that the media is getting worried he’ll win. I believe he’ll win, too. And I plan on collecting my free beer, Mike.

  8. dhammett said, on May 19, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    “But is anyone who questions his place of birth at this point really a fruit loop?”

    To this point? Honestly? In my opinion? Yes. For four+ years they’ve been attempting to make claim after claim stick. They’ve put effort and money into the project, and so far all we’ve heard are “may have” “possibly” “could prove” etc. Innuendos with no substance. The charges are being made by that side. The burden of proof is on them. So far their claims look frivolous.

    After reading TJ’s Chauncy Gardner item from diplomad, I am quite pleased to hear you think Obama is “educated”. If he is, he’d hardly have reason to “fake” his education. On the other hand he’d have ample reason to throw roadblocks in the way of any fruit loops who try to get particulars.
    The comparison I used earlier for TJ applies. It seems to me this is just “. . .’Obama-profiling’ . . .He doesn’t look like a person who might have graduated JD magna cum laude [from Harvard. He doesn’t look like the 95% of the typical class], so we need to see his grades.” He’s got a funny name, so he must not be American. And what’s with the teleprompter garbage? As I pointed out earlier, Lincoln wrote out the Gettysburg Address. Did he look at the text when he delivered it? Would any world leader be wise to “wing” major speeches? Of course not. Did Obama use a teleprompter when he debated during the ’08 elections? Of course not.

    I see a minor link between Trayvon Martin and Gene Kelly. and Martin Zimmerman and Obama and you. If the great dancer Gene Kelly had been in that gated community that evening acting suspicious, “singin’ and dancin’ in the rain”, Zimmerman may have approached him. . . .Or would he? Kelly was a good dancer. He may have gotten in a few good kicks, but George would have shot him… Or would he? You put all your observations together and you get “vibes”. On that tape of Zimmerman’s phone call, it’s clear he got vibes. He suspected a guy who was carrying iced tea and Skittles. . .

    My suspicion, until someone comes up with something more substantial is this . Obama resists. He has in the past, and he’ll continue to do so.
    “He doesn’t like being figuratively pushed up against a wall and frisked when he knows he’s right.”

  9. dhammett said, on May 20, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    TJ: You took us down the Martin/ Zimmerman path @ 5:17 10:35pm with this:
    “Attacking is what Trayvon Martin did to George Zimmermann. . .”

    I responded (5/18 4:36pm):with an alternative view and continued with
    “Here’s another possibility: Let’s wait for the all the evidence and the trial. Then the people who disagree on the verdict can continue bitching and the rest of us can get on with our lives.”

    Which brings us to this:

    Read the five page article. It’s worth your time. Or just consider the the last paragraph, a statement from “Stephen A. Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University”.
    “’Most trial lawyers believe, and most psychologists who study the way that people process information believe, that once people interpret something in a certain way, once they begin to believe something, they become committed to that,’ he said.’And if they become committed, it’s hard to change their minds.’”

    Reminds one of the Prof. Gates controversy. When all the evidence was in, and a study was done, it was decided that
    “Crowley could have better explained how uncertain and potentially dangerous it is to respond to a serious crime-in-progress call and why this can result in a seemingly rude tone. Gates could have tried to understand Crowley’s view of the situation and could have spoken respectfully to Crowley. The report cites research that shows people’s feelings about a police encounter depend significantly on whether they feel the officer displays respect and courtesy.”# (Henry Louis Gates arrest controversy–wikipedia) In that case, all the heat dissipated over beers at the White House.
    “He [Gates] also revealed that he asked Crowley for a sample of his DNA and interestingly enough, he and Crowley are actually distant cousins and share a common Irish ancestor.”

    Similarities and differences here that might tie this back to the original subject of this article:
    1/The Gates ,Martin ,and to a great extent what I call the “Obama-profiler” situations are black on white.*#
    2/What I said before seems to apply here: Gates, Obama –and likely Martin– didn’t “like being figuratively pushed up against a wall and frisked when [they know they’re] right.” I suspect some of that is a result of the history of race relations in this country. I would note that as a Caucasian, I’m reasonably certain I wouldn’t be happy with being frisked when there’s no reasonable cause that I can discern.

    Then there’s one glaring difference:
    Gates and Obama are alive. Martin’s dead.

    #A quick listen to Zimmerman’s call to the dispatcher seems to indicate that MZ was not inclined to be respectful and courteous.
    *# Yes, Virginia, there are some black birthers out there, though you may have to sell a kidney and a lung to find one.

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