Romney’s Noblesse Oblige

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

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81 Responses

  1. greginak says:

    Don’t forget the part where he says it would be easier to get elected if he was Latino.Report

  2. Tod Kelly says:

    That’s funny. I was just thinking to myself this morning, “where the hell is Elias?”

    Also, good post.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Although if I’m being honest, this…

      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.

      … makes more sense to me in the vacuum that is this single election, and far less when I take in data from his campaigns in 2008 and 1994, and his time in office from 2003-07. When I throw those other times into the mix, I am less certain that he’s the guy he runs as simply because he runs as that guy.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Perhaps he is that guy, and it was in his governorship where he had to act as something he wasn’t?

        Personally, I’m not sure he’s any particular guy, politically. I suspect he’s hollow enough that he totally melds into whatever role is the one appropriate to the moment, and really becomes that guy….but only for that moment.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to James Hanley says:

          His agenda would be to do what he would need to do to get re-elected.

          If the polls said “support gay marriage and it’ll make it more likely you’ll get re-elected!” the day after he got into office, he’d give a speech talking about the importance of stability in society. If the polls said “support a woman’s right to choose” then he’d give a speech about some women he knew who had to go through a difficult decision.

          It has nothing to do with what he believes. He may or may not believe things, I dunno. I just am pretty sure that when it comes to getting into power, his beliefs are a means and not an ends… to be abandoned when they cease working towards the ends you desire to be replaced by new means.Report

        • The governorship also involved dealing with the Massachusetts state legislature, which probably constrained his actions to some extent.

          The question is how he’d deal with a GOP majority with the likes of Cantor in charge of the congressional delegations.

          I don’t see him throwing up huge roadblocks, especially not if he’s got Paul Ryan in his White House.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

            The governorship also involved dealing with the Massachusetts state legislature, which probably constrained his actions to some extent

            That, and the median Massachusetts voter, are pretty much what I was thinking of.Report

  3. Nob Akimoto says:

    I get starbursts when I read Elias’s writing.Report

  4. Robert Greer says:

    I’m not convinced that Chait’s position is so unreasonable. Romney’s record as Massachusetts governor was genuinely moderate, at least compared to his self-presentation on the campaign trail, and Romney’s admitted to voting for Democratic candidates in the past (Paul Tsongas in ’92, I think). Romney’s response to the publicization of the 47% remark was sheepish rather than triumphant and indignant, and although it seems his campaign has decided to more or less double down on it, that’s still consistent with the idea that he’s a secret moderate who’s grabbed the Tea Party tiger by the tail. Until we have a fuller explanation of Romney’s apparent change of heart between his governorship and his presidential runs, it’s still reasonable to wonder if Romney is a secret centrist who’s overlearned from the mistakes of his father’s presidential run.Report

    • Michelle in reply to Robert Greer says:

      I used to think he might have moderate tendencies as well, but he said the stuff he did about the 47 percent with so much more conviction than the tripe he peddles on the campaign trail. Between the video and the flashes of arrogance and utter contempt for his opponents he’s shown in debates, I’m becoming convinced the Massachusetts moderate was a role he played so he could chalk up a prerequisite governmental role before going after the presidency. I guess I mostly see Mitt as a soulless pit of blind ambition who thinks he should be annointed Prresident. In short, your basic Randian Republican.Report

  5. ChuckTodd's Beard says:

    I’m not a huge Romney fan but you are wrong. He got some seed money and knew what to do with it . He made Bain Capital. Scoff, laugh what ever. It was the model most people followed. It nearly collapsed when he left and he revived it when he returned. You want to rag on silver spoons and guys who could turns large sums into small if left on there own? John Kerry made money the old fashioned way he married it and moors his yachts out of state to avoid taxes, Ted Kennedy he inherited his never made a dime on his own. Your sarcasm masks your ignorance. Dislike Romney, fine. the guy didn’t need anyone’s help to make his money he would have done it regardless. His background allowed him to do it a little quicker.Report

    • Aye, Mr. Beard. History is full of born-on-third base trainwrecks. Where are the Roosevelts now? The most famous scion of the Vanderbilts has a cable news show you can’t even pay Democrats to watch fer goodnessakes. The roadside is littered with drunken Kennedys.

      Mitt done OK.Report

    • Robert Greer in reply to ChuckTodd's Beard says:

      You’re misunderstanding the argument. Nobody is denying that Romney was a successful businessman and did well with the advantages he was given. Elias’s criticism is that Romney holds himself out as someone who pulled himself up by his bootstraps when this idea is pretty damned offensive to people who didn’t enjoy Romney’s vast privileges.Report

      • YOU get that from Romney, mebbe, as do many who are voting for the other guy.Report

        • Robert Greer in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

          Do me a favor and point out to me where Romney acknowledged that his success would have been more improbable if he had been born to a more typical American family. Thanks in advance, I know you won’t let me down.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Robert Greer says:

            Never has that happy grin on your face seemed more appropriate.Report

          • You turned that around nicely, Robert. Sophists applaud. However the burden of proof remains on

            Elias’s criticism is that Romney holds himself out as someone who pulled himself up by his bootstrapsReport

            • Robert Greer in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

              Great. Now all I have to do is get you to read the article you’re commenting on. Should be easy enough.Report

              • Um, no. You have to support ” Romney holds himself out as someone who pulled himself up by his bootstraps.”Report

              • Robert Greer in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                The post you’re commenting on links to an article detailing how the guy who had nearly half a million dollars to play with in his early college years “inherited nothing” and earned everything “the old fashioned way.” If you don’t think there’s something mendacious about that I don’t think I’m ever going to talk you down from that hill you live on.Report

              • Nah, you nor he supported the claim, which is just a generic slime on Romney anyway. Romney nailed the real issue today—it’s not who CARES most about the poor, it’s who can help them. Obama can’t and Romney can.Report

              • Robert Greer in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                So you don’t think there’s anything wrong with what Romney said. Got it.

                Those vapid assertions are really helping your credibility, by the way.Report

              • Michelle in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                And just how will Romney help the poor, Tom? Given that he hasn’t bothered to tell us.

                I heard that snippet of his speech today. Only he knows how to help the poor. Very pissy. I hope the pissy asshole version of Romney shows up for the debates.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Obama can’t and Romney can.

                You’re reduced to reciting campaign slogans? Whatever happened to the “I don’t play the game” TVD?

                If you think Romney’s better, make an actual argument, don’t just recite his slogans like a paid shill. It’s sad.Report

              • Jobs, Michelle. If you think Obama can improve on his miserable record, vote for him. I don’t, so I won’t.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                That’s not an argument, Tom. How will Mitt create more jobs than Obama?

                (Look, I’m not arguing the opposite case, because I’m no supporter of Obama. But you’re just repeating slogans here. You like to say you’re above that–be above that.)Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Nah, you nor he supported the claim

                Is that because you’re using those private Humpty Dumpty meanings again?

                I mean, I know you’re just trolling at this point, but it’s remarkable to see someone as intelligent as you play a childish game of “did not!” over something as transparently obvious as what Romney meant by the words he used to describe himself.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                And just how will Romney help the poor, Tom?

                By being his pasty white self. When the job creators see him, they won’t run back into their burrows, thinking they’d seen their shadows.,Report

              • Chris in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                He’s going to help them by ignoring them. You know, like you’d do with any spoiled child, to teach them self-sufficiency. Because if anyone in this country is spoiled, it’s the poor people.Report

              • Michelle in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Jobs, Michelle. If you think Obama can improve on his miserable record, vote for him. I don’t, so I won’t.

                Unless Mitt is going to hire lots of people himself or, as he notes in the now infamous video, his mere election will cause capital to flow, Mitt hasn’t specified what he’ll do to enhance job creation. The 12 million jobs he’s promises happen to be the number of jobs predicted to be created over the next four years, with or without Mitt’s presence.

                And yeah, I will be voting for Obama in a swing state nonetheless.Report

            • Michelle in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

              Tom, here you go, straight from the mouth of the Mittster.

              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 and…[applause] I see that—

              Romney: 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 isn’t exactly acknowledging his privileged upbringing here. While he doesn’t say he pulled himself up by his bootstraps, he does imply that he made his way all by himself, without a major leg up from his family who paid his way through his Harvard MBA/JD. Plus, he’s also disingenuous about his inheritance. Mitt’s father died in 1995, at which point Mitt was a alreeady really wealthy. Given estate taxes, the bulk of his estate was probably passed along to his grand kids, not Mitt, to limit the tax penalty. Nothing wrong with that, but something Mitt fails to mention.

              I don’t think most people begrudge Mitt his success, but he’d probably come off as less of a smug, self-serving prick if he acknowledged that his was a charmed upbringing, and that he was able to build on it through hard work and a bit of luck.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Michelle says:

                Mitt’s far more humble than Barack. Now we’re just down to ad hom. And me, I wouldn’t care if Barack were such the egotist if he were competent.Report

              • Chris in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Humble people don’t run for President of the United States of America.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

                Not any more, but once upon a time fairly humble people were selected for the nomination–when it depended on party leaders in caucus or convention. Not through any particular desire of those leaders for a humble person, but because the most self-aggrandizing irritated too many folks, so that despite having strong support from one segment of the party they would be blackballed by the rest. That’s why we got the “darkhorse” candidates after umpteen rounds of voting.

                Now the system favors those with the boundless need for self-aggrandizement that will drive them through two-three years of perpetual campaigning, the primary process, a series of public debates, non-stop speeches and performing in front of crowds, and a willingness to solemnly promise that under their presidency the moon will in fact be made of green cheese and America will lead the world in gourmet caviar production, or even more ridiculous, that we’ll be energy independent.

                There’s a simple technological fix to getting rid of these types of presidents. It’s the politics of it that’s hard.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Mitt’s far more humble than Barack.

                More campaign slogans. I find Barack Obama to be irritatingly smug and condescending in tone. I also find Mitt Romney to be irritatingly smug and condescending. The differences in humbleness between the two would require a microscope to identify for measurement.

                Now we’re just down to ad hom.
                There was nothing ad hom about Michelle’s comment. You use that phrase not in any principled sense but just as a debate stopper.Report

              • Michelle in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Mitt’s far more humble than Barack. Now we’re just down to ad hom.

                I never claimed that Obama was humble, so I’m not about to get into a pissing match over who’s more humble, him or Sir Mitt. Mitt’s humility isn’t the issue here anyway; his honesty is. He’s pretending to be a pulled-himself-up-from-the-bootstraps guy when, by any meaningful measure, he wasn’t. Reagan was. Clinton was. Hell, even Obama was.

                As for ad hom, that seems to be your strong suit, Tom.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Michelle says:

                No, Michelle. And that’s ad hom. ;-PReport

    • Jeff No-Last-Name in reply to ChuckTodd's Beard says:

      This too is incorrect. Bain was formed using massive infusion of government funds. Between this and Salt Lake City, no “moocher” can come close to Romney.Report

  6. Tom Van Dyke says:

    All of this applies to Kennedys as well. In fact, Jack and Bobby were far less admirable as persons than Brother Mitt.

    Romney’s like GHW Bush, what’s been called the “Tory” tradition. Public service is indeed noblesse oblige, and Romney believes he can fix this mess. I personally think he’s the best candidate for that job.Report

    • Chris in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      “Oh yeah?! Well some Democrats who died more than four decades ago were worse!”

      Best comeback ever.Report

    • clawback in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      All of this applies to Kennedys as well.

      Did the Kennedys claim to be self-made?Report

    • Sierra Nevada in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      As a scion, Romney is more GW than GHW Bush, but let that pass.

      Romney can, at best, “kick the can down the road” while rehabilitating a party that has badly lost its way. And when I say badly, I am doing that understatement thing because the internets already have enough breathless all caps shouting.

      Today I saw, in my own community here in the Sierra foothills, two separate “Don’t Renege in 2012” bumper stickers. On the aforementioned interwebs today, I saw an image from my old hometown Austin, a man who lynched an empty chair in effigy on his front lawn and proudly proclaimed to the reporter who called to ask him about it “,I don’t really give a damn whether it disturbs you or not. You can take [your concerns] and go straight to hell and take Obama with you. I don’t give a shit. If you don’t like it, don’t come down my street.”

      Nobless Oblige, my ass. Leave aside for the moment my personal opinion that Romney is a decent man, and a close second best candidate on the ballot for the job. The BS that racists in the party formerly of Lincoln are running against Obama has to stop, now.Report

    • Isn’t one of our complaints about the President that he’s “divided the country”? And yet you have no problem with someone who divides the country between the 47% who don’t pay federal income taxes and those that do?Report

      • That’s a fair criticism, Nob. However, there are 2 minutes missing from the video so we don’t know the entire context. You did hear there are 2 minutes missing from the Mother Jones video, yes? Just checking. Those who consume only “mainstream” and left-wing news miss a lot. When Mother Jones says “full transcript”

        “full” is not exactly accurate.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

          Dude, it’s a full transcript of the fucking video. It’s the video that’s incomplete, not the transcript.

          Make a nice conspiracy theory of it. You don’t have one fishing clue about what’s in the two minutes that the video recorder was allegedly accidentally turned off (very plausible–I’ve done it often when videorecording my kids’ swim events), but since nobody else does, either, you’re going to pretend that surely it’s meaningful and probably changes everything.

          And you accuse Robert of sophistry? He’d have to pay you royalties to get away with it.Report

        • Michelle in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

          Yes, because surely Sir Mitt must have said something that would have rehabilitated the 47 percent nonsense. We must be missing the “gotcha good, didn’t I” part of the tape.Report

        • Jason M. in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

          I’m dumbstruck by this “missing 2 minutes” conspiracy that’s all the rage with the right now. What awesome, game changing, election winning piece of rhetoric was Romney uttering in that brief 2 minutes? Surely is was something so profoundly devastating for Obama’s campaign that David Corn had to delete it! How devious of him! Now nobody will ever know what brilliant political incantation Romney spoke aloud…er, except Mitt Romney.Report

          • DensityDuck in reply to Jason M. says:

            “I’m dumbstruck by this “missing 2 minutes” conspiracy that’s all the rage with the right now.”

            Hey, missing video was enough for everyone to agree that Breitbart was an evil racist asshole and nothing he said meant anything (even though Breitbart posted the full video as soon as he got it and the full video didn’t actually exonerate Sherrod).Report

  7. Zach says:

    I wonder how easy it would’ve been with Romney’s academic history to get into the first class of Harvard’s MBA/JD program as Mitt was able to do. He bailed on the more academically and culturally challenging environment of Stanford for BYU and didn’t exactly take the most challenging missionary gig in the middle. Hard to see how that background qualifies him as one of the top few law/business applicants in the country.Report

    • Robert Greer in reply to Zach says:

      Mitt would have been valedictorian of BYU if it weren’t for his first year at Stanford which disqualified him. Harvard Law School usually enrolls a handful of BYU grads every year. Romney’s matriculation at Harvard Law is not so implausible.Report

      • Michelle in reply to Robert Greer says:

        But we haven’t seen his college transcripts, so how would we know. (snark)Report

      • Zach in reply to Robert Greer says:

        Getting into Harvard law is different from getting into Harvard Law and business and then being invited to the JD/MBA program. The class size in the dual program is a couple orders of magnitudes smaller. I think I was wrong about this being the first class in the program, though; had heard that somewhere, but I think it started two years before Romney arrived.Report

  8. Mike Schilling says:

    Romney said what he actually believes

    Objection: assumes facts not in evidence. It’s quite possible that Romney saying things he believed would appear to be imitating Harpo Marx.Report

  9. Montana says:

    In the end it will be Willard Milton Romney’s own words that will bring down his seven year run for the presidency. Thank you Romney for speaking your real mind, sure its ugly but it just confirms my feeling that you act more like a Corporation than a person who would show compassion when he realizes that a majority of my country is suffering. But hey, the empty chair was a great bit, thanks for the laughs.Report

  10. Scott Fields says:

    I think you are even understating your case, Elias.

    In addition to the top drawer schooling and the sustaining stock, Mitt also received the Romney name and connections. Even if the younger Romney had gone to the public schools in Detroit and started with the clothes on his back, his father’s Rolodex proffered greater advantage than most Americans could ever imagine. Does anyone suspect that Mr. Romney solicited investors for Bain Capital by making cold calls?

    In addition, he had the family fortune as a backstop for his risk. It is much easier to take great financial risks in order to reap great financial gains when you know that, even if you lose big time, you’ll still have a nice mansion to live in and plenty to eat.Report

  11. BlaiseP says:

    Mitt Romney’s a Republican. Remember, folks, political parties are formed to get people elected. As such, they’ll put together some sort of platform based on positions they believe the voting public will buy. Straight-up marketing. Nothing more. Not what the country needs, no complicated exposition of the facts and the circumstances: facts get in the way of marketing. While it’s true the customer should be satisfied with what he’s purchased, or in the case of politics, with who he’s voted for, there’s no guarantee or returns policy.

    With every candidate, you’re getting a pig in a poke: even the most ruthless vetting process can’t reveal what’s in a person’s heart. What’s more, Romney’s got a track record. It’s easier to get a governor elected than a Congresscritter. Congresscritters have voting records. Obama beat the Hildebeest because he hadn’t voted on Iraq.

    Sincerity is the worst possible reason to vote for a politician. What you want in such a creature is someone who will do the will of the people. Mr. Madison engineered a messy process and Knights Errant who believe otherwise are usually devoured by the dragons in Washington. Any time you start feeling kindly-disposed to a politician, concluding this guy’s a real mensch, a good apple, on th side of the angels — just stop right there. You’re being played.

    I’ve known men born to a life of privilege, a few women, too. Their lives are not their own. They’re expected to measure up to a standard they didn’t set. Every child craves approval, they’ll do anything to gain their parents’ attention and love. Mitt Romney did as he was told and bought into the plan set out for him while he was still in short pants.

    Mitt Romney’s the ambitious product of ambitious parents. Mitt Romney’s a product of a boarding school. It’s written all over him. I’m the product of boarding schools, three of them. I finally put my own foot down and said I wanted to live at home and not boarding school for the last year of high school — only to find all my old prep school friends at college the next year. Don’t mistake Mitt Romney’s patter for falsity, it’s not. It’s an engineered façade evolved to cope with living at close quarters with equally competitive children of equally competitive parents.

    Once you’ve bought into the plan, even partially, you’re trapped. I escaped into the military, that was my way out — but every generation of my father’s family in this country served in the Army, so how much of an escape was that? It wasn’t. The apple seldom falls far from the tree. Even in escaping, the exit doors are all mapped.

    If Mitt Romney was born into a life of unimaginable privilege, he was also born into a world of equally unimaginable pressure. In such a world, you’re either predator or prey, bully or bullied, success or failure, on a field of battle where you didn’t invent the rules and there’s no opt-out mechanism short of being expelled. He tells these Horatio Alger tales because they make him seem more human. They were invented for him. If he were to tell the truth about his life at Cranbrook, it might be an even more amazing story.Report