Romney's Lost Opportunity to Demonstrate Empathy

Allow me one more point on this whole Romney bullying thing. If you haven't read my previous post on it, that's here, but today I have a piece on CNN.com arguing that this was a real missed opportunity for Romney. Here's the key passage:

A candidate who has struggled with seeming human, as Mitt Romney has, could have done himself a favor by using this as an opportunity to show a little more of himself. He could have said: Yes, it happened. It was stupid and cruel. I wish I could go back and undo it. But part of growing up is realizing where you failed when you were young, and learning from your mistakes so you can become a better person.

Most importantly, Romney could have said something that indicated he had a conception of how horrible the assault must have been for John Lauber, the victim. His only mention of Lauber, who died in 2004, was to say "I had no idea what that individual's sexual orientation might be."

By referring to Lauber as "that individual" he makes Lauber a nameless figure, further distancing himself from the incident. Which is exactly the opposite of what he should have done. After all, it's the quality of empathy -- being able to see things from someone else's perspective and feel what they feel -- that Romney has had trouble convincing voters he possesses.

Few people could in fairness say that the incident from Romney's youth proves that today he's a terrible person. But what would really help is if Romney were to explain how youthful misdeeds, when you have the opportunity to reflect on them and understand who you were and why you fell short, can make you a better person. He may have closed off that path by saying he didn't remember the incident, but surely there'd be some way for Romney to use this as an occasion to communicate that he is capable of empathy. Or maybe not.

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