If you’re wealthy because of your success in business, you’re pretty much an untouchable these days, a member of a maligned social caste in Barack Obama’s America of “transformative change.” Mitt Romney is so rich many wonder if he’s as fully human as the rest of us.
That’s why in the days before her speech at the Republican National Convention, Ann Romney was tasked by the media high foreheads with “humanizing” the inherent rich-guy inhumanity of her husband. She did pretty well, but it might not be enough. Plus she looked too good, requiring further penance.
After all, she and her husband are worth something like $200 million. That kind of money requires a whole lot of expiation, if indeed redemption is even possible. Perhaps in an attempt to seem more like a regular person, in a recent interview Mitt confessed that he was wearing a shirt from Costco, where the Romneys love to shop. And we learned that the squads of offspring and grand-offspring that populate their summer vacation place do their own chores without benefit of hired help — just like us common folk.
The rich seemed a lot more human before the Obama-induced backlash against success. When Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933 in the depths of the Great Depression, about 25% of Americans were jobless. Financial collapse had devastated the nation and the formerly employed had become “hobos.” But nobody asked why they should vote for a man worth $60 million when they were dead broke or how this obscenely wealthy patrician could possibly “relate” to his fellow Americans who were standing in bread lines wearing tattered clothes.
Roosevelt was elected for an unprecedented four terms, but he could never have been elected today. He would have been mocked and attacked as irredeemably evil, combining as he did the worst of the repugnant stigmata of the rich: an inherited fortune, a privileged upbringing and a Wall Street job. Not only was he wealthy, he was the crustiest of upper crust aristocrat with an ancestor who had served in the American Revolution. Not only did he come from a long line of vulture capitalists, but his maternal grandfather had built the family fortune by preying on people of color, trading in Chinese opium! And when he was just a teen, his father gave him a sailboat!
Clearly, Roosevelt and his family would be puzzled by Barack Obama’s off-teleprompter remark that, “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.”
Also bewildered would be FDR’s close chum and political ally, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. So fond of amassing wealth was Joe Kennedy that he broke the law to pile up as much filthy lucre as he could, building a large bootlegging empire during Prohibition. But before that, JFK’s dad amassed a large fortune as — horror of horrors — a stock market and commodity investor with a Wall Street firm. Well-connected, he enthusiastically engaged in insider information and market manipulation tactics that were legal at the time but later outlawed. No surprise, he became the first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
When his son, Democrat John F. Kennedy, ran for president, nobody asked how a man with a $1 billion fortune could possibly know anything about the money struggles of everyday Americans. (It seems that unlike Romney, JFK didn’t gift his inheritance to charity.) Nobody asked about the illicit means by which his family achieved their wealth. They admired the hard work and smarts that created that wealth, even if larded by some questionable methodology.
But today, though he has a perfectly legitimate and lawful business record that even Bill Clinton calls “sterling,” and which is also defended by Democrats like Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Obama’s former car czar, Steve Rattner, Mitt Romney is relentlessly demonized because of his success. He started Bain Capital from nothing, and yes, he built it, by putting money from private investors into new businesses like Staples and Sports Authority. He’s never been in trouble with the SEC. Bain’s investments created tens of thousands of new jobs, real jobs that last, not temporary or non-existent “stimulus” jobs or “green” jobs in Obama’s pal’s companies that quickly declare bankruptcy and keep our tax money.
The firm also invested in turnarounds, companies in danger of going under. Bain offered needed capital and business expertise to these failing enterprises, one of which was GST Steel, of the Joe Soptic TV ad, “Mitt Romney killed my wife” fame. (Question: Since she died five years after the plant closed, and seven years after Romney left Bain to save the Olympics, shouldn’t her own husband, not somebody else’s husband, have been picking up the tab for her insurance?)
Bain Capital was able to turn around about 80% of the businesses in which it invested private money. Compare that to Obama’s record, gambling and losing money that’s not his, but ours. Bain’s private investors made a lot of money because the firm was so successful. Because over half the money invested in private equity firms comes from pension funds and charitable foundations, Bain’s success spreads out to provide for seniors’ retirement, provide funds to universities and give charitable foundations the resources to serve their communities. If only Obama and his handlers could comprehend that it’s gutsy capitalist enterprises like private equity firms that efficiently “spread the wealth around” even as government so spectacularly bungles it.
My dad, an attorney who built his own successful law firm, had a saying: “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” He would say it jokingly to us kids. But it signifies the defining idea of America: that smartness leads to richness. Barack Obama is all about disconnecting the cause and effect between effort and reward that has built the most prosperous nation on earth. He mocked our foundational idea in his now-legendary Roanoke speech, ridiculing the concept that success comes from intelligence and hard work. He tries to stir up class envy between the very rich and the rest of us by accusing the wealthy of not paying their “fair share” and with attacks on Ann Romney’s horse.
Every American once understood that this very basic idea, that work is rewarded with success, is the reason America thrives. It’s why people risk their lives to come here. But some polls show that Obama’s campaign to erode this essential connection is having an effect. People are starting to believe the them-vs-us propaganda.
If America abandons its founding aspirational principle, we lose what makes America work. That’s what this election is all about: Will we or won’t we? It seems to me that Mitt Romney has made himself and a lot of ordinary Americans extremely prosperous. He should be applauded, not demonized. His whole life he has proved that smarts and hard work will result in success. And by using those smarts and working hard, he can help make our nation once again great, and good, and successful.
Joy Overbeck is a Colorado journalist and author. Her work has appeared in Redbook, Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, TV Guide, Woman’s Day, Denver’s 5280, and elsewhere. Her two humor books were published by Pocket Books and she writes on politics and more at www.mycoloradoview.com, www.thekitchencabinet.us, and her quirky God website, www.godsayshi.org. Follow her on Twitter.