- Jul 14, 2011
- Reaction score
- Native America
By Peter S. Goodman
One little problem with the compassion thing that Mitt Romney keeps touting in his recent television ads: He doesn't seem to have any.
We can safely assume that he cares about his wife and their boys. He must feel concern for the fellow congregants of his church and perhaps for some of his neighbors at one or another of his residences. He probably even liked that dog he stuck on the roof of his car.
But somewhere between his traditional social circle and the broader world -- a place inhabited by strangers whose jobs might require elimination in pursuit of profit -- Romney seems to lose emotional regard for the troubles of others.
It looks that way in part because Romney has made it look that way, cultivating the image of a stern and unsentimental disciplinarian in the face of wasteful federal spending in a bid to win over the anti-government zealots who dominate his party. This is how best to understand his decision to train his sights on Big Bird in last week's debate.
It looks that way because Romney is a creature of privilege, the son of a CEO and governor who spent his formative years at elite institutions of higher learning, and then in the exclusive ranks of premier business consulting and private equity firms. One can assume he didn't meet hordes of poor people at Harvard Business School or Bain Capital. It's hard to summon compassion for people who, within one's own experience, effectively don't exist.
In any event, it looks that way.
When you spend months bemoaning an expansion of food stamps in response to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, as Romney has done, word gets around that you are perhaps not the biggest-hearted mansion-owner on the lake.
When you lie about your challenger's supposed efforts to weaken limits on welfare while implicitly contending that anyone who needs government help is a loser, word gets out that concern for the vulnerable is not your defining feature.
And when you tell a room full of well-heeled campaign contributors that you have written off nearly half the country as a bunch of government-dependent parasites, compassion is not the word that springs first to mind.
Not that any of this recent history gave Romney pause when laying claim to compassion in his ads. Those in the business world like to celebrate themselves as self-made. Romney is self-made-up: He gloms on to any word that seems capable of selling the product, which is whatever incarnation of Mitt Romney he is playing that day.
"We shouldn't measure compassion by how many people are on welfare," Romney says in one ad. "We should measure compassion by how many people are able to get off welfare and get a good paying job."
That's a smart, politically opportunistic line, one that plays on the crucial need for jobs as well as on a traditional disdain for welfare recipients held by large slices of the electorate. It's also devoid of anything resembling genuine compassion.
Many people on welfare are there because they have tried and failed to secure decent paying jobs. The last Republican president put his imprint on the weakest so-called economic expansion in modern memory. Romney has been running on a pledge to extend and enhance Bush's policies, giving tax cuts to the wealthy, which would necessitate cuts to the social safety net. Yet here he is, invoking compassion as grounds for voters to congratulate themselves for their sensitivity while they join him in doing something small and mean-spirited: Cutting welfare (along with Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps and unemployment benefits) in order to hand out the proceeds to the affluent.
Romney seizing on this buzzword "compassion" seems like the result of the desperation manifest in not having enough of it in the first place.
From the beginning of the race, Romney has been plagued by troubles that stem from one fundamental truth: He is a prisoner of his own limited social experience. He can't adequately connect with people, and the people to whom he reaches out can see through him. He lacks authenticity.
More: Peter S. Goodman: Mitt Romney, Man of Compassion?