The American Promise

Mitt Romney built that. His own quiet corner of wealth from which he could think about so many Americans who didn’t pay their taxes but held out their hands. Romney, who is pushed as caring, compassionate, recoiled. “I can’t help them,” he said. “They won’t take responsibility for their lives.” Mitt Romney wants to take responsibility for our government. He wants the reins of power for the world’s largest economy, the executive authority of the world’s largest government budget, the  cooperation of a Congress that is eager to break the oldest American promise, cited in the Declaration of Independence, that for citizens government will “effect their Safety, Happiness, and Prudence,” and that these shall not be changed for “transient causes.”

In the world Mitt Romney built, wealth is the only permanence. He speaks of it when he says he can create jobs; he means somebody got paid. When he describes business as a basic criterion for leadership he means wealth. When he says Jews possess a quality missing in the Palestinians, he is speaking about wealth. His money is all overseas, but it is never far from his thoughts and he doesn’t get why it should matter except to others like him.

Then, at a meeting of the rich, he visits an epiphany, a really old, worn-out cliché: the rest of us are busy being dependent. We hate success. He, Trent Lott and others give it a third-person makeover: government is creating dependency and division. Romney promises to make it stop. To break faith with “Safety, Happiness, and Prudence.” Romney promises to restore delusion, fear, and especially the blind indifference of planters draped in the mantle of success (and receipts!) from their work farms of tobacco, cotton, and rice—when power and wealth knew no limits.

When the rust began to eat the edges of his thin veneer, he tried a new coat of paint. His views of the rest of us were expressed inelegantly. Really? What elegant words does he have for seniors, students, veterans, the poor, the unemployed, the undocumented, the underpaid, those without the right to work that Romney fired and whose benefits and pensions he killed for his own bonuses and fees? How do you unite a country by telling half of it citizens their safety and happiness is a problem and only a transient concern? Romney bewails others as dividing America when he had divvied it up long ago when he built his world view and his ideas about governing and sent his money offshore.

The Everest, Denali or Kilimanjaro for Romney’s ilk is the world’s biggest pot of wealth and power, the American government. Bush squandered it, but not Romney. He will roll it to his will.

All that stands in his way is a black man, thin, handsome, with a nice family, the kind of people who lived in the quarters, who toiled on the work farms and lacked the culture of success, who were never photographed pulling money out of every pocket, who never took down companies for cash, and were called “faithful” as they swallowed their pain. Romney doesn’t understand or see their courage. In his world, “they” were dependent. They were the debris and hubris of the American dream. Keeping with the tradition of success by breach of promise, he offers a tax cut to increase wealth and lessen suffering. Frustrated, the turn-around guy is turned off. Government didn’t stand in the way of the planters; those from the quarters lack the requisite skills to rule.

Barack Obama, framed in an African tale, would be tortoise or ant (or a kudu!). Persistent, fearlessness without recklessness, and with a probing intelligence not tied to balance sheets, sensible without a pretense of flawlessness. He built policies of which old plowmen would be proud: not on delusions, denials, dents, differences or diminished community, but on dignity, determination, driving forward, on decency and opportunity. Ants do not sting themselves; tortoises hunker down. Wise, Barack Obama knows wealth is less important than how we share and what we protect, in keeping with the original American promise.