At his LATimes blog, David Horsey asks, regardless of how you feel about which one should run the country, which one would you have rather known in high school?
I'm less willing to separate the issues. The child most assuredly is father of the man.
And it can work both ways: Some bullies, in the process of growing up, go through a come-to-Jesus moment and emerge as defenders of the weak, and some simply learn to channel their hostility into socially acceptable mannerisms, like handing out dismissive frat-boy nicknames: Stretch. Turd Blossom. Altoid Boy.
In the same way, there are dope-smoking smooth operators who suddenly have a moment of clarity, and there are dope-smoking smooth operators who don't, as Hilary Clinton and Elizabeth Edwards learned.
Whatever its roots, the urge to be president shows an unusual level of need. There is a Catch-22 in that we should not have a crazy man in the White House, but who else wants it enough to go through what it takes to get there?
And this need for power is not necessarily in the sense of launching nuclear missiles. It's a deeper need than that.
Power, in high school, is coolness, is peer-acceptance. Every few years, some kid comes along who is good-looking, athletic, top of the class and so cool as to be off the charts, and incredibly popular in large part because power comes so naturally that there is no need to struggle for it.
Most of the time, however, there is a scramble. A friend once tried to explain that "Lord of the Flies" was a metaphor for something or other, and I said, "No, it's about what we're like without rules to restrain our baser instincts."
Which leads to Romney's prep school antics and the Bizarro Swift Boat response they have sparked.
First of all, the same people who insisted that Obama's childhood experiences and exposures made him unfit for the presidency are now just as firmly proclaiming that prep school was years ago and, whatever the truth of the stories, they're irrelevant today.
But the real Bizarro-twist is that, in Kerry's case, the accusations came from veterans who were not present, either at the moments in question or, in some cases, at all -- they had served in different units or he had rotated out before they came in. The guys who had actually served with him, the guys who were physically present when the events occurred, defended his version of events.
By contrast, the people who were present at the Cranbrook events are Romney's accusers, while his defenders are those who were not.
The two emerging major defenses seem to be that:
1. One classmate was quoted in the Washington Post article as saying he had been bothered by the bullying for years, despite the same article reporting he had not known about it. (After the article appeared, he called the paper for a clarification, that he had said he was bothered about it since hearing about it.)
2. The victim of the group attack never mentioned it to his family. This is of importance for those who don't realize that we are talking about a kid at a residential prep school 220 miles from home. Or who think a closeted gay kid would tell his family he was being picked on, perhaps hoping they would come get him and bring him back to the town he had been so desperate to get out of.
And who need to see the movie "Bully" so they can understand just how much support he might have expected from the school if he had reported it to anyone.
But, of course, Swift Boating is not based on logic or weighing facts. It's based on creating a narrative that reinforces the world view people want to believe. Whether it is creating a fantasy view of Vietnam for people who weren't there or a fantasy view of prep school for people who've never been there doesn't really matter.
Here's my take: Romney says he doesn't remember leading a gang of bullies to hold down a weeping underclassman and hack off his hair.
Now, I have been on both sides of bullying, because the affirmative defense against bullies is to paint a target on somebody before somebody paints a target on you. But I'm not proud of it and I haven't forgotten the rotten things I did half a century ago.
Which is why I'm less bothered by what Romney did than by the idea that it doesn't even stand out enough for him to remember.