In last Wednesday’s presidential debate, Mitt Romney’s political instincts wisely led him to connect his academic-sounding laissez-faire economic policies to practical outcomes that benefit all strata of society, from the exorbitantly rich to the struggling middle class, to the suffering poor.
Democrats responded by accusing Romney of being secretly mean, cold, and uncaring.
Even a cursory review of Romney’s charitable activities outside of his successful business career renders this notion laughably absurd.
It is well-established (and uncharitably dismissed) that Romney and his wife Ann give tons of money to charity. According to his tax records, Romney gave $3 million in 2010 and $4 million in 2011.
Romney didn’t just give money to his church, as some detractors have carped. In 2010, Romney’s charity, the Tyler Charitable Foundation, gave $650,000 to organizations that fund research on cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and aging. (Which debilitating diseases has Barack Obama supported—Zuccotti Lung?)
For the past 20 years, Romney gave an average of 14 percent of his income to charity. But he didn’t just donate money… he donated time and labor.
For four years during the 1980s, Romney served as bishop of his church in Belmont, Massachusetts. In spite of his privileged background, Romney happily trotted out into the community to visit the sick, lead youth groups, counsel troubled couples, and help juvenile delinquents.
In a Los Angeles Times report, friends recall Romney “showing up with a ladder to fix broken lights in homes. He once directed traffic in the midst of a blizzard on a highway, covered in snow and ice, so a church funeral procession could reach a cemetery.”
The New York Times quotes church aide Philip Barlow saying that Romney “was highly motivated and ‘hands-on’… If somebody’s roof leaked, Mr. Romney would show up with a ladder to fix it. Mr. Barlow remembers Mr. Romney picking butternut squash and yanking weeds on the church’s communal farm.” (This is in contrast to President Obama, who sics his wife Michelle on us to make us eat butternut squash and weeds.)
But Romney didn’t just fulfill menial chores- he connected with people on a personal level.
New York Times reporter Robert Draper, who trailed Romney’s campaign last year, admitted that “‘what you don’t get a sense [in the public eye] is of his ability to be compassionate on this one-on-one basis.’ For 15 years, Romney was in charge of the spiritual and sometimes practical needs of thousands of Mormons in the Boston area. Church members say he led with patience, built teams to solve problems, and showed deep compassion…”
Romney counseled individual couples for years, following up with them and losing sleep over their problems. When he could translate his emotional concern into practical results, he did, like the time he whipped out a pen and pad on request and drafted a will, by hand, for a teenaged parishioner dying of cancer.
But Romney didn’t just hold heart-to-heart chats. He risked his livelihood and even his life to help them.
You’ve heard about the Romney who monstrously laid off people just for fun while he was the head of Bain Capital. How about the Romney who shut down his 30-person firm and sent his staff to New York City to search for the teenage daughter of one of his partners who had fled there to attend a rave and gone missing?
You’ve heard about the Romney who stuck a crate atop his station wagon for the family’s Irish setter to ride in during a trip to Canada. How about the Romney who risked his life to save a Scottish terrier—and a family of six—from drowning on Lake Winnipesaukee by jet skiing to their capsized boat in the dark and plucking them from the water?
Mitt Romney’s modest, unsung second life of furiously busy charitable activity—the details of which are scattered in the shadows of his high-profile professional successes, but which he is finally starting to open up about—highlights the stark difference between Democrats’ and Republicans’ views of “niceness.”
For liberals, being nice means loudly spending other people’s money on the vocally needy in exchange for perpetual political patronage. For conservatives, whose charitable giving consistently outpaces liberals’, it means helping the silently suffering by yourself.