Is It Possible Not to Remember?

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TPM Reader WB has another angle on whether it’s credible that Mitt Romney doesn’t remember this incident from high school …

I think the question of whether Romney remembers this incident is a really interesting one. I do think it is possible he doesn’t remember the event, but in many ways that is a more troubling proposition than assuming that he’s lying about not remembering it.

Anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of abuse like that is not likely to ever forget it. Why? Because it’s a terrifying experience, and we tend to remember events most clearly when there is a strong emotional component associated with the event. That’s the way we’re wired. To put it in very simple terms: the chemicals that are released in our brains when we’re afraid, or have some other strong emotional response, make it easier to remember those events years later. We are also likely to have thought about them many times over the course of our lives, strengthening (although also changing) the memories. The other classmates who have come forward to describe the event appear to have strong feelings of guilt and remorse associated with the memory, so it also makes sense that they would remember it as well.

So what about Romney? If he really doesn’t remember the event it says something deeply troubling about him. It would mean that he committed this act against his classmate without feeling very much about it one way or the other and without reflecting on his actions later in life. Maybe this was just another day at Cranbrook for him. I would find that deeply disturbing because that is consistent with the behavior of a sociopath.

I’m not a doctor, and I am in position to “diagnose” Romney, but this is not the only troubling incident that gives me pause to really wonder about his character. Obviously, the infamous Seamus the dog story also suggests a person who lacks the normal empathetic emotional responses as well. And it doesn’t end there either, there are lots of little things that have popped up over the years (comments, testy responses, etc.) that strongly suggest he has little of the normal ability to empathize with others. His ability to make decisions in an affectless kind of way has even been touted as one of his strengths by his supporters (remember the Seamus story was not the result of oppo research, but was initially offered to the Boston Globe as an example of Romney’s ability to respond cooly under pressure). I suspect this isn’t that last we’ve heard about this.

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Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.
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