What's worse than getting a bad grade because you "don't play well with the other children," when it's the other children who refuse to play with you? Seeing the biggest bully of all elected class president would probably come close.
As I watched the presidential debate last night, I thought to myself several times: "Mitt Romney is being a bully." I didn't say anything, though, because I was afraid I would be accused of overreacting to a performance that was simply long on assertiveness. Today, though, I have seen numerous women say that Romney's performance reminded them of abusive former husbands and boyfriends. So I now believe I'm in good company when I say that by effectively walking over the debate moderator and the President of the United States and running the debate entirely on his own terms, Romney was exhibiting classic bully behavior. What passed as effective debating in the dysfunctional world of the Republican primaries, where audiences cheered the idea of letting someone without health insurance die in the gutter, is now revealed more clearly for what it is.
I'll try not to comment on what was said in the debate, since the fact-checkers have been busy and may actually have some impact on the spin this time around. I want to single out, though, Romney's repeated statement that President Obama refused to work with the Republicans in Congress while, as governor, Romney willingly (i. e. out of dire necessity) worked with a legislature that was 87% Democratic. As anyone who has been paying the slightest bit of attention for the past few years knows, it is the Republican Congress that has refused to work with the president. It was the leaders of the Republican Congress who proclaimed, publicly, that their primary objective was to deny Obama a second term. It was the rank and file members of that Congress—including, I'm embarrassed to say, my own newly elected Congressman—who strapped on suicide vests last summer and threatened to blow up the country if they didn't get everything they wanted. (I borrow the metaphor from the NYTimes's Joe Nocera, who was later bullied into retracting it.) For Romney to try now to score a debating point by blaming Obama for not playing well with that kind of children is beyond shameful. It is the tactic of a bully.
During the debate last night, Romney repeatedly refused to be silenced either by Jim Lehrer or by the president. He made it clear that he considered himself the one in charge, and unfortunately Obama played along, smiling sheepishly every time he was humiliated. A lot of people have asked, in effect: "What happened to the president last night?" As someone who was bullied to within an inch of my life as a teenager, I know the answer. It's the same thing that happened to Jim Lehrer. They were both bullied into silence. They are both strong, experienced men who know better, but bullying works because it is so effective. Ask Rush Limbaugh. Ask Glenn Beck. Ask Mitt Romney.
And please, don't vote for a bully for president. You might be startled to know just how many of us you would be condemning to four years of PTSD.