What the media doesn’t get about Romney’s wealth

Gary Shapiro | President and CEO, Consumer Technology Association

Did you know that Mitt Romney’s quest for the presidency is all but over? It’s true. During Saturday’s Republican debate in Iowa, Romney extended his hand to Rick Perry and offered a bet. But we’re told it wasn’t so much the offer itself that ruined Romney’s chances; it was the price of the bet: $10,000.

In the narrow-minded world of political punditry, Romney’s bet was a serious gaffe. On the Sunday political shows the morning after, various analysts debated not whether the super-rich Romney was out of touch with ordinary Americans, but to what degree. Doesn’t he know that most Americans can’t afford to make a $10,000 bet?

Making matters worse, Sunday was the day The New York Times published an article on Romney’s “lavish lifestyle.” My first thought was that The Times had published just another Republican presidential candidate hatchet job (the type the “paper of record” forgets to do on Democratic candidates).

While there were parts of the story that were vintage anti-GOP — the very premise is meant to single Romney out as the so-called “1%” — the story was surprisingly balanced. Yes, discussing Romney’s net worth of $200 million is not supposed to inspire sympathy from readers, but reporters Michael Barbaro and Ashley Parker also uncovered the frugal side of Romney — and that side is the most interesting and pertinent to his candidacy.

The piece began by quoting a former Romney employee describing a 20-year-old incident where Romney allegedly said he wished he could have a Porsche like the employee. Aside from the irrelevancy of the comment, the fact that Romney chose not to spend his money on expensive sports cars is a classic reporter tactic of damning with faint praise.

But the article also included relevant glimpses of Romney’s upbringing. Born to wealth, Romney was fortunate to have stern taskmasters as parents who did not let their success spoil the young boy. Growing up, Romney had many chores and even worked as a security guard, despite his father, George, running a major car company. Romney seems to have carried these childhood lessons of hard work and frugality with him, and raised his children in the same way.

Although the reporters seemed puzzled why Mitt Romney could be both frugal and generous, the story is actually a road map for parents concerned that their success is a recipe for mediocrity and sloth in their children. Romney’s life offers a solution: give your kids chores, put them to work and deny them the easy access to the fruits of wealth.

The story hit home for me and for others with whom I have spoken. My mother-in-law, a dermatologist who emigrated penniless with her family from Poland and lived in the Detroit slums while she studied English so she could retake the medical boards here, said the article struck a chord for her. She said people don’t understand why despite her success she cleans her own house and does her own lawn maintenance. She said that there is value and reward in frugality and hard work. And certainly her hard-charging, always-working surgeon daughter (my wife) is proof she did it right.

Our nation has benefited from the hard work of immigrants who wanted to achieve the American Dream. But too often those who are financially successful hurt their children by giving them everything. The Romneys have found a way to be successful and instill the values of hard work and frugality in their children. More, much of the frugality the authors describe in the article is precisely the type of frugality long absent from any of our elected leaders.

Upon finishing the article I thought: here’s a candidate who will respect taxpayers’ money and who understands that government is service and not privilege. Romney can’t help that he was born to wealth. Nor should the voters punish him for adding to that wealth throughout his life. Rather we should see how Romney chooses to live despite his wealth. It finally hit me that Mitt Romney is the ultimate common-sense candidate who will restore frugality to Washington’s profligate ways. More importantly, he will do so based on principle and experience.

It’s sad that the media and far too many political analysts see success as a handicap. Certainly, Romney could have saved himself some grief had he not bet Perry. But the fallout from that comment says a lot more about the media than it does about Romney. Maybe the Times reporters intended to present a schizophrenic portrait of a man with great wealth. But for many readers like me, the story had a reverse effect. It pushed me closer towards Romney.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times bestselling book,The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.”

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