Romney’s Noblesse Oblige
Of all the punditocracy’s many responses to Romney’s instant-classic 47 percent comments (it was a “gaffe” only insofar as Romney said what he actually believes to be true) the silliest ones have been from left-of-center types who are shocked and disappointed with Romney for being such a callous elitist. The apotheosis of the genre comes from one of my favorite political writers, New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, whose disillusionment borders on the cosseted naivety he usually mocks when it’s coming from Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, or some other clueless media grandee:
The revelations in this video come to me as a genuine shock. I have never hated Romney. I presumed his ideological makeover since he set out to run for president was largely phony, even if he was now committed to carry through with it, and to whatever extent he’d come to believe his own lines, he was oblivious or naïve about the damage he would inflict upon the poor, sick, and vulnerable. It seems unavoidable now to conclude that Romney’s embrace of Paul Ryanism is born of actual contempt for the looters and moochers, a class war on behalf of his own class.
Coming from a man who had previously described himself as “severely conservative,” and who went on to claim the White House was “gutting” welfare reform in order to “shore up [Obama’s] base,” it’s hardly shocking to hear Romney deride those without total financial self-sufficiency.
Just relying on good old Occam’s razor, if you’re stuck between two explanations of Mitt Romney — that he engages in a near-constant charade of portraying himself as a conservative Republican in order to be elected President so he can enact a moderate agenda; or that he is a conservative Republican who is running for President so he can enact a conservative agenda — taking the man at his word is the more reasonable choice.
It’s long been a contention of mine that Romney is at his most sincere when discussing two specific topics: his wife Ann, and the brilliance of the free-market. At these moments, we’re hearing the long-sought “real” Romney — or at least the closest approximation most of us will ever be privy to.
When it comes to Ann, this isn’t a bad thing. The high school sweethearts seem just as genuinely fond of each other as the President and the First Lady, and I’ve always found myself liking Romney the most when he’s praising his wife. What can I say? I get sentimental. (The fact that I’m still with my high school girlfriend is no doubt to blame.) But when Romney’s talking shop — i.e., money — he unveils the harder, colder, meaner, and haughtier aspects of his personality.
We’re seeing this a lot today as Romney attempts to stanch the bleeding by talking about how, 14 years ago, Obama said something every center-left (and many center-right) politicians around the world say in one form or another with regularity: “I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure everyone’s got a shot.” As Matt Yglesias snarked, Obama’s campaign is so deathly afraid of how the public will react to Obama’s pro-redistribution inclinations, they’ve made it one of the campaign’s central talking points.
Aside from this desperate gambit (to be fair, I spent some time this week trying to fashion a better way to spin the tape in Romney’s favor; it’s unspinnable) we can also hear the less-palatable Romney in the now-infamous Mother Jones video, specifically when the former governor describes his privileged upbringing. Or, as Romney would risibly have it, lack thereof:
By the way, both my dad and Ann’s dad did quite well in their life, but when they came to the end of their lives, and, and passed along inheritances to Ann and to me, we both decided to give it all away. So, I had inherited nothing. Everything that Ann and I have we earned the old-fashioned way, and that’s by hard work […]
I say that because there’s the percent that’s, “Oh, you were born with a silver spoon,” you know, “You never had to earn anything,” and so forth. And, and frankly, I was born with a silver spoon, which is the greatest gift you could have, which is to get born in America. I’ll tell ya, there is—95 percent of life is set up for you if you’re born in this country.
Mitt Romney’s father, George (a truly self-made and inspiring man), was the CEO of
General American Motors, the Governor of Michigan, and the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He sent his son to the elite Cranbrook boarding school, whose most-prominent alumni you can find here (grain of salt: Wikipedia). According to Ann, when she and Mitt were in college, they didn’t get part-time jobs because they could “chip away” at stock their parents had given them. Mrs. Romney cites this as proof that the Romneys know financial hardship and sacrifice.
In today’s dollars, the stocks they held were worth roughly $377,000.
It should go without saying that Mitt Romney was born with a level of privilege that most people cannot fathom, much less compete against. For him, 95 percent of life was set up in advance. Ignorant of any other kind of life, I guess it’s possible to believe that people who know financial peril do so because they refuse to take personal responsibility. They’re lazy, self-pitying, whiny, entitled. With a galling disregard for the 20th century’s myriad horror stories of dehumanizing language leading to unspeakable horror, the rightwing’s chosen phrase to describe these people is “parasites.” Romney doesn’t go that far; but one imagines he well might.
That someone of his blessed station would have the tone-deaf audacity to portray himself as an Horatio Alger story made flesh is not simply laughable or ridiculous. It’s a sign of emotional disconnect bordering on pathology. A recent study, popular in leftwing circles, found that wealth can diminish a person’s capacity for fellow-feeling. I wonder if Mitt Romney’s read it.