About Mitt Romney’s Shirts

Just before Mittens takes the stage tonight—a stage that has been moved “closer to the people” just to help him connect with the people—I am thinking about that connection problem with common folks who don’t send their under-the-mattress money to European banks for tender loving care.

I found the Romney’s “Costco” interview with Chris Wallace highly entertaining, what with Mrs. Romney desperately trying to convince us that her husband could relate to the ordinary Joe who is forced to wear shirts from a big box discount store.

That’s okay by me. I don’t want to hate Mitt Romney. And although I think his lifestyle and his mannerisms and his jokes and his lying are creepy, I don’t want to think he is, outside of politics, a bad human being who may or may not routinely wear shirts from Costco.

In her convention speech the other night, Ann Romney shared, for public consumption, this tidbit:

When Mitt and I met and fell in love, we were determined not to let anything stand in the way of our life together. I was an Episcopalian. He was a Mormon.

We were very young. Both still in college. There were many reasons to delay marriage, and you know? We just didn’t care. We got married and moved into a basement apartment. We walked to class together, shared the housekeeping, and ate a lot of pasta and tuna fish. Our desk was a door propped up on sawhorses. Our dining room table was a fold-down ironing board in the kitchen. Those were very special days.

The idea here, of course, is to portray the beginning of the Mitt and Ann Romney family as fairly typical of the way most American couples start out, having little but loving each other much.

But even if those young Romneys did eat “a lot of pasta and tuna fish,” the attempt at “we know what life is like for folks who don’t have much” sounded totally artificial to me.

You see, there is a difference between young folks starting out and walking the high wire of life 50 feet up, without a net and only the hard concrete of reality below, and folks walking that high wire only about five feet up with a feather bed to land on, should they, God forbid, fall.

And the young Romneys certainly had the comfort of knowing that their landing, should it have been necessary, would mean they would live to take another walk, comfortably and without a limp.

That obviously makes a lot of difference in terms of one’s security and well-being. And thus I think the Romneys would have to work hard to ever understand, even incompletely, what it is like to be on that 50-foot high wire knowing that one slip means a hard fall.

Melissa Harris Perry, commenting on Romney’s “disconnect” from the average voter, made a point today that I have not heard another soul make during all the incessant chatter about Mittens:

It’s not a sympathy question. It’s not a question of whether Mitt Romney can be sympathetic. It’s a question of whether or not he has empathy, in other words, a kind of first-hand knowledge and understanding of what the kinds of struggles ordinary Americans are facing right now…

Ah. Sympathy versus empathy:

Both empathy and sympathy are feelings concerning other people. Sympathy is literally ‘feeling with’ – compassion for or commiseration with another person. Empathy, by contrast, is literally ‘feeling into’ – the ability to project one’s personality into another person and more fully understand that person.

That’s it. That’s what needs to be understood about Romney and why his awkwardness in connecting with folks is not as important as what guides him as he fashions the policies he will pursue, should his campaign of lies be successful.

I have no doubt that Romney is a charitable man, who has done many good things for others in his personal life. In fact, in my experience sympathy often produces personal charity. But let’s don’t pretend that such charity is purely an act of unselfishness.

Mrs. Romney said this in her speech:

Mitt doesn’t like to talk about how he has helped others because he sees it as a privilege, not a political talking point. And we’re no different than the millions of Americans who quietly help their neighbors, their churches and their communities. They don’t do it so that others will think more of them.

They do it because there is no greater joy. “Give and it shall be given unto you.”

Get that? “They do it because there is no greater joy,” which means they do it because it brings them joy. They get something out of the giving. It is, paradoxically, a form of selfishness. That quote from scripture, Luke 6:38, makes this point even more clear:

Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom.

Give because it feels good, is what Ann Romney actually said. And Jesus said it will actually bring good things your way to boot.

In my reckoning, empathy—in Melissa Harris Perry’s words,”a kind of first-hand knowledge and understanding of what the kinds of struggles ordinary Americans are facing“—is a different thing. It may produce charitable acts, certainly, but in a political context it also should produce public policies designed not as handouts based on our feeling sorry for folks who are down and out, or folks who are struggling to make a living or get an education, or folks who have grown old and insecure, but because we, as a people, know the struggles that some people face.

And unlike the personal reward for charitable giving, “no greater joy,” the reward for advancing and supporting policies that provide funds for food or health care or education or retirement is civilization, the comfort of knowing that we live and breathe in a land where people don’t have to go hungry or go without health care or miss out on an education or worry about the insecurity of old age. In a word,  empathy creates the net that should be below everyone, not just the Romneys of the world.

I am not saying that rich people like Mitt and Ann Romney can’t empathize with others, nor support public policies that ensure the well-being of all. There have been plenty of wealthy people, including George Romney, who supported such policies.

I just know that Mitt Romney has had a hard time demonstrating such empathy during this campaign, but, more important because it is more telling, many of the policies he champions as a presidential candidate certainly don’t give us the slightest bit of confidence that he understands the struggles of ordinary Americans.

In fact, those policies demonstrate just the opposite, and buttoning up a Costco shirt each morning has absolutely nothing to do with it.

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10 Comments

  1. A good analysis, Duane. I would point out too that there is a difference between how someone relates to others when it’s personal and when it’s impersonal. For example, consider robbers. If you hold up a person or a family, that’s one thing, but holding up a bank that’s insured and has deep pockets is often seen as less morally reprehensible. Similarly, lying or bending the rules in business is often perceived as different from doing those things in personal relationships. I listened to a good NPR podcast on the subject and this is borne out by psychologists. Otherwise perfectly honest people are often easily led into morally compromising actions in business. I think Romney has partitioned his concerns in the same way. The Millman article provided a good list of the issues that contrast Romney’s intentions with the Obama administration’s positions:

    ” . . . this is what Friedman thinks a conservative party would look like. It would:

    – Favor deficit reduction achieved by a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts.

    – Favor immigration reform that provided a path to citizenship for those here illegally and that opened the “front door” wider for skilled immigrants to come legally.

    – Favor tackling climate change by putting a price on carbon to account for negative externalities, and then let the market work its magic to reduce emissions.

    – Favor improving education by toughening teacher evaluation, doing an end-run around union rules through school choice and charters, and promoting common core standards for instruction.

    Every single item on that list is Obama Administration policy, from Cap-and-Trade to Race-to-the-Top.”

    Romney/Ryan are against all of that. They would include the rich in continuing the Bush tax cuts. They now disdain the Dream act, originally embraced by Republicans, which would save Hispanic young people who grew up here. They would virtually destroy Medicaid for the poor and the infirm. And while everyone including Obama agrees that Medicare needs tweaking, the R&R plan for it is fuzzy at best and disastrous for the middle class at worst.

    I don’t really care where Mitt Romney buys his shirts, his policies speak volumes about his corporate policies and they aren’t empathetic at all.

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  2. Duane: you wrote “And thus I think the Romneys would have to work hard to ever understand, even incompletely, what it is like to be on that 50 foot wire knowing that one slip means a hard fall.” So true. The thing that infuriates me about conservatives (or anyone really) who is against Obamacare. I have had political discussions with people who I disagree with on many issues and they are all against Obamacare completely until they hear MY story. 4 years ago I lost my job. I paid out of pocket for Cobra at great personal expense for the 18 months I was eligible for it. Then it ran out and because of a history of migraines I was ineligible for all but a CATASTROPHIC POLICY on the open market which was double in cost what Cobra had been but you can’t be uninsured, right? Then, catastrophe struck 2 years ago. I was in a nearly fatal car accident and while I was in emergency surgery for 7 hours my insurance company said I should have been on tge phone with them instead and so they denied coverage of my CATASTROPHE outright. The doctors and the hospital who literally saved my life did not get paid for doing so and I was subsequently forced into a medical bankruptcy. To this day, I volunteer at that hospital 2x weekly to try and “give back” even though it will never equal my medical bills incurred. And invariably when conservatives hear MY story they say something like “Oh well that’s just ridiculous. Someone like you should have health insurance.” What does that mean? “Someone like me?” What – because I’m a pretty white girl I SHOULD have access to affordable health care but “those other people – those DARKIES” shouldn’t also have it? I am always so perplexed by their response in this regard. When I explain to them Obamacare would prevent my situation from happening again to me or anyone else they suddenly think it’s a great idea because I put a “pretty white girl” on the face of Obamacare instead of what they ASSume it wrongly to be: another entitlement handout program to “the darkies” at the expense of tax-paying whites. And Romney has said the first thing he will do as president is repeal Obamacare. So yeah, to say Romney cannot begin to understand just how HARD that fall is for Americans without a rich-parent safety net is an understatement indeed! I fell and EVERYTHING in my life shattered – my physical body, my financial solvency and my ability to pick myself back up again because thanks to OTHER Republican policies, employers can do an irrelevant anal-probe background check on me and even though it isn’t job-related – no employer wants an employee with a bankruptcy on their record. And so a person like me who would give anything to pulmonary myself up by my bootstraps & start again

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  3. Continued….a person like me who would give anything to pull myself up by my bootstraps and put my life back together is instead forced into PERMANENT DISABILITY – a concept I just CANNOT bring myself to do (even though I qualify) because I WANT TO WORK but Republican pro-employer policies would have me be a permanent ward of the state than a productive member of society again all because I had the NERVE to do everything I was supposed to do as a responsible citizen but who got screwed by the system anyway! Everyone agrees this shouldn’t have happened to me but given the chance, at least half of America will go to the polls in November and vote in such a way that it will easily be able to happen to me ALL OVER AGAIN. Thanks a lot, America!

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  4. Yellow Dog

     /  August 30, 2012

    I have private insurance. It’s about $600 a month since I have a pre-existing condition. I’m not old enough for Medicare, am qualified for disability but refuse at 57 years old to go home and collect other people’s money and do nothing.

    Last month I got a refund from United Healthcare. $400. It seems they must spend 80% of my premiums on my healthcare, then a profit margin….and the balance comes BACK to me.

    Thank you Mr. President. It was sweet getting that check.

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  5. Yellow Dog

     /  August 30, 2012

    I think when and if The Affordable Health Care Act kicks in (why the Democrats took YEARS to freaking take effect amazes me….it gives the Right time to lie about “Obamacare” and re-define it), people will like it.

    Leave it to the Dems to take a lifetime for the legislation to kick in. Only THEY would do that. Bush would have had it take effect the next month for sure. The Republicans sure wouldn’t give the other side freaking YEARS to pick the thing apart!

    They will never learn.

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    • King Beauregard

       /  August 31, 2012

      Sure, Bush would have rammed something into law, recklessly and without any awareness of or interest in the complexities that will come about. That’s how you get an Iraq War; that’s how you get a Republican response to Katrina.

      The Democrats, on the other hand, put something into law that not even an insanely partisan Supreme Court could rule against, and with time grows increasingly difficult to dislodge. Sure I wish it were all rolled out right now, but this is complicated enough that I respect the need for time..

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  6. ansonburlingame

     /  August 31, 2012

    to all,

    I posted the following comment on another local blog, sort of wrapping up my views from all the GOP speeches this last few days.

    “If concerns over Romney’s “character” have not been resolved in an individual’s mind then that individual simply has already made up his or her mind to vote for Obama. Trying to change that mind now is hopeless. Ann and MItt are simply quintessentially an America success story, period. And NO ONE should have to apologize for success as long as it was achieved legally and morally.

    So now voters must return to policy analysis to decide for whom to vote, in my view. THAT now boils down to do you vote for what we have received, federally, in the last 4 years or do you believe “we can do better”, federally.

    It seems to me that reliance on government to pull us out of the GR has failed, rather miserably. That list of failures can be simplified down to “what did this country get as a result of borrowing $5 Trillion and counting”. As well what will it get with another round of continuing $1 Trillion deficits as far as the eye can see.

    Condi Rice made the case for preserving American strength internationally and Romney/Ryan made the case for relying on the private sector, not government to make a resounding turn upward in economic matters.

    Vote for what got us here internationally and economically today, or vote for change, significant change to give America a chance to “do better” than the last four years.

    I look forward to hearing Dem responses next week.”

    anson

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    • King Beauregard

       /  August 31, 2012

      Why is that, whenever there’s a post that starts with the words “To all”, what follows is invariably bullshit?

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  7. romney and ryan will make sure our young have no jobs so they will have to join up to go to the wars they start. ann romney had maids nannies etc. she has no clue how us normal decent woman struggle to take car of our loved one. she is a liar ruthless unprincipled bit-h just like her weathy seeming senile husband. ryan is another palin but smarter

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  8. Corinne

     /  September 12, 2012

    I cannot believe that Romney showed sincere empathy to his family. He is a man who has shown little if no empathy for those that were suffering. For women, for gays for the average person. I really believe he is a man of pretenses and that would certainly be part of his personality when dealing with his own family.

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