Note: I'm adding a caveat to my original post, Rumproast commenter D. Johnson indicated that the video I embedded in this post is of dubious provenance. Accordingly, I deleted it, and the portion of my "Rumproast" post referring to it, out of deference to my hosts. I'm leaving it here and will only take it down if I receive evidence that it isn't kosher.
In this post, I'm going to reveal my "Johnny Roughnuts" side... after all, I'm not the Big Benevolent Bald Bunny, now. To put it bluntly, when I watched a speech by a Romney friend on Thursday regarding Mitt's generosity, I was unimpressed. While the speech hit some emotional notes, I think the context undermines the premise of Mitt as philanthropist.
The opening of the speech gives the game away:
n 1982, my husband Grant and I moved from California to Massachusetts, with our newborn son.
Being a church-going family, we looked for the nearest chapel and soon found ourselves in a congregation led by a clearly bright and capable man, named Mitt Romney.
I knew Mitt was special from the start.
We didn’t own a dryer, and the day he stopped by to welcome us, I was embarrassed to have laundry hanging all over the house. Mitt wasn’t fazed.
In fact, as we spoke, without a word, he joined me and started helpfully plucking clothes from around the room and folding them.
By the time Mitt left, not only did I feel welcome, my laundry was done!
As Grant and I juggled school, jobs, church and family, we grew to love the Romneys.
They became role-models and friends, and we were honored when Mitt and Ann regularly trusted us to stay with their five rambunctious – but very loving – sons when they traveled.
Mitt wasn't merely a generous friend, he was the equivalent of a Catholic or Episcopalian bishop presiding over a small Mormon community in a northeastern state, the leader of a minority faith group in an indifferent, or even hostile, territory. Significantly, Mormons tithe, they relinquish a portion of their earnings to their church, and some of the money tithed goes towards maintaining bishop's storehouses, which are used to provide assistance to persons deemed worthy by the religious authorities. It is in this context that one has to view the following:
It was when our daughter Kate was born three and a half months early that I fully came to appreciate what a great treasure of friendship we had in Mitt and Ann.
Kate was so tiny and very sick.
Her lungs not yet ready to breathe, her heart unstable, and after suffering a severe brain hemorrhage at three days old, she was teetering on the very edge of life.
As I sat with her in intensive care, consumed with a mother’s worry and fear, dear Mitt came to visit and pray with me.
As our clergy, he was one of few visitors allowed.
I will never forget that when he looked down tenderly at my daughter, his eyes filled with tears, and he reached out gently and stroked her tiny back.
I could tell immediately that he didn’t just see a tangle of plastic and tubes; he saw our beautiful little girl, and he was clearly overcome with compassion for her.
During the many months Kate was hospitalized, the Romneys often cared for our two-year old son, Peter. They treated him like one of their own, even welcoming him to stay the night when needed.
When Thanksgiving rolled around, Kate was still struggling for life.
Brain surgery was scheduled, and the holiday was the furthest thing from our minds.
I opened my door to find Mitt and his boys, arms loaded with a Thanksgiving feast.
Of course we were overcome. When I called to thank Ann, she sweetly confessed it had been Mitt’s idea, that most of the cooking and chopping had been done by him.
She and the boys had just happily pitched in.
While it may be a heartwarming tale of generosity, I can picture Mitt saying, "I can't let these people go hungry, I'm stake president, for Pete's sake." Simply put, Mitt pretty much had to assist this family. As the equivalent of a bishop, would he have risked alienating his flock by ignoring the plight of this family that had fallen on hard times? As someone raised in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, I can vouch for the fact that bad bishoping has a deleterious effect on the size and devotion of congregations. For a leader of a minority faith community, the need for cohesion in a "foreign" area is crucial.
Now, while Mitt showed compassion and generosity to a subordinate member of his church community, he probably wouldn't show such compassion to someone he perceived as "other". Let's hear Mitt's idea of compassion for foreigners, members of a different culture, agroup of "others":
Listening to that, I am struck by the fact that Mitt bought the patent bullshit that the fences around the factory compounds were meant to keep people out. This doesn't pass the smell test. Furthermore, if Mitt were truly compassionate, wouldn't he have insisted that the living conditions for the workers fenced inside the compound be improved? I imagine Mitt could lie to himself, saying, "They're different from us, they don't value privacy." It's the same impulse that leads someone to say, "Using Hellfire missile strikes on wedding parties doesn't matter because they don't value human life like we do." It's the sociopath's "out".
I've developed a jaundiced view of the concept of "charity", which seems to be an obsession for right wingers. Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Michele Bachmann all opined that uninsured Americans should rely on charitable organizations to provide healthcare. This poses a few major problems. First, and most significantly, charities do not have to provide help to all individuals, just ones that they find "worthy". While Mitt was perfectly happy to hand carry a Thanksgiving feast to the home of a congregant, would he have shown such noblesse oblige to a poor lesbian, or a sex worker, or an atheist? It's easy for a rich religious leader to dip into the community chest to resdistribute the tithes he collects to one he considers in the "us" category, he's much less likely to help one of "them" (as Jesus H. Christ famously noted. Secondly, charities aren't always on the level- for example, the Susan G. Komen controversy shed quite a bit of light on the outrageous compensation packages for top executives. Additionally, a lot of charities operate on the "Bad Samaritan" model- even though the "Samaritan" stops to help the wounded traveler at the side of the road, he's the guy who hired the brigands to rob and beat the man, and took a cut of the take. Mitt helped a family that he was personally involved with, then turned around and laid off thousands of other breadwinners, and we're supposed to think he's a good guy? Charitable donations are often a way to assuage the guilt of the corporate shark, while putting a publicly pious façade on the rapacious.
Personally, I trust the government more than I trust the churches and the private charities. The New Deal was the single greatest anti-poverty measure in the history of the planet. Public servants aren't skimming millions of dollars off the top in the form of salaries and expense reimbursements. They don't flaunt their "largesse" over their lessers, but quietly and competently get the job done. I don't mind paying my taxes, and I don't think that the miniscule number of scammers should inspire the demolition of the safety net. I want to see the government do more to alleviate poverty, to expand healthcare coverage. If that means the death of private charities, so much the better.
I don't want a world of "Thanksgiving feasts for some, and barbed wire fences for others".