The front page of Tuesday’s Washington Post has the latest take on how Mitt Romney hopes to achieve, in his 2016 Presidential campaign, the “authenticity” that has eluded him for his entire political career. As this and other reporting has made clear, Romney is sad that last time out,voters perceived him as indifferent to the sufferings of those less well-off than he. To convince them otherwise, he intends to emphasize the good works he did as bishop of his local Massachusetts ward of the Mormon church.
He demonstrated that approach in his only big public appearance since jumping into the 2016 fray: a speech aboard the USS Midway, at the Republican National Committee gathering in San Diego.
It’s a telling approach. Here you have a man who has been in the public eye for many years, forced to hark back to a period of his life some three decades ago for evidence of his concern for the disadvantaged.
Romney’s pastoral role with his Belmont congregation ended in 1986; he then served as president of the Boston Stake until 1994, when he ran for US Senate.
Observers, who are likely to view Romney’s anti-poverty crusade cynically as an attempt to re-brand from the 2012 “47%” disaster, may understandably wonder what the man’s been doing for the poor lately. Surely a man with his wealth, power, influence, and prestige — and, let’s face it, free time — could have started some sort of charitable foundation or institute or something. If Bill Clinton and George W. Bush could do it…. heck, even John Edwards did it, and he took inauthenticity to heights even Romney couldn’t scale.
There is, in my view, a fundamental barrier here. Romney, I would argue, can be very compassionate and generous to those in need. There are plenty of illustrative stories; he has also, to the best of my understanding, given great sums of wealth to charitable causes.
But, those efforts are directed almost exclusively toward those with whom he has a clear connection — one of his own, you might say. That usually means members of his church, although occasionally the connections are through his place of residence, or his workplace, or his friendships.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, or even terribly unusual. But I believe it has long made it very difficult for him to convince people that he cares about anybody outside of his personal circles.
That’s problematic, but especially so when those circles — the extremely wealthy, and members of the Mormon church — are viewed as quite small, atypical, and somewhat foreign to most people.