What's the best way to run for president as a private equity titan and son of a CEO in a time of rising worry about economic inequality, against an opponent who likes to note that he "wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth"? Well, you could accept your lucky lot in life and do everything possible in your proposals to offer opportunity to the less well-off. Or you could start revising your own biography. From today's Washington Post:
Romney is sensitive to perceptions that he grew up wealthy, so Obama’s “silver spoon” remark could strike a nerve. On the campaign trail, the former Massachusetts governor sometimes talks about his father, George, growing up poor and driving across the American West looking for work. When Mitt was born, the family was middle class, moving from Detroit to the tony suburb of Bloomfield Hills only after Mitt was a teenager, when his father took over American Motors. Although Mitt’s parents helped fund his college and graduate education, and helped him and his wife, Anne (sic), buy their first home, he did not inherit his parents’ wealth; he amassed a multimillion-dollar fortune on his own, working at Bain Capital.
Um, not exactly. Actually, this is off on just about every count, according to Michael Kranish and Scott Helman's Real Romney, the definitive biography of the candidate. The family was hardly "middle class" at the time of Mitt's birth -- shortly after he was born, his father George became an executive with the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation, which later merged with Hudson Motor Car Company to become American Motors Corporation, where Romney was soon named executive vice president. He became CEO of AMC in 1954 -- when Mitt was 6 or 7. Likewise, the Romneys moved from their (very big) Detroit home to Bloomfield Hills, "a domain of sprawling homes, emerald lawns, and elite private schools," when he was six or seven, not "after Mitt was a teenager." And this account also understates the support Mitt received as a young man. George Romney not only "helped fund his college education," he provided his son an allowance when he was at Stanford, though he considered cutting it back after he found out that Mitt was secretly taking flights back to Michigan to visit his sweetheart Ann. After the couple married, Mitt's parents bought them a car as a wedding gift. When they moved from Utah to Boston for Mitt to commence law and business school at Harvard, Mitt's parents helped them buy a house in Belmont, a "leafy Boston suburb" -- not a shabby start for a 24-year-old graduate student. Here's how Ann Romney recently cast the couple's situation in those starting-out years: "We had no income except the stock we were chipping away at. We were living on the edge, not entertaining.” Ah yes, the common twenty-something plight of chipping stock.
Romney's hardly the first candidate to try to talk down his roots. And yes, his outsized wealth is the direct result of his own hard work at Bain Capital. But it requires willful blindness to ignore the advantages that carried him through his first decades in life. And it's the job of the rest of us to hold him to the basic facts of his biography, even as he now tries his best to blur them.
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