Mitt and Me, a Jazz Age Comparison

I’ve been thinking about money lately. Well, that’s not quite right.  Said more accurately, about the wealthy. There’s been a a lot of talk of course about the 1% versus the 99% and the growing income gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The Erstwhile Conservative had a good chart on that in his post, “Why C.S. Lewis Was Right About Government”. Thanks to the Bush tax cuts the gulf between the rich and the rest of us is now wider than it’s been since the Great Depression.

And then there’s GOP candidate Mitt Romney who is “unapologetic” that he’s “made a lot of money”. Now I doubt that any American, or at least any middle-class American, begrudges Mr. Romney his wealth – after all he seems to have made it legally. The problem is that he seems disconnected from ordinary society in a strangely wooden way. Maybe it’s because he didn’t have what most people consider a “normal” childhood, growing up in a wealthy and strict Mormon family, his father successful in Michigan and national politics. To his credit he did serve as a Mormon Missionary for a couple of years in France as a young man.  That must have been an eye-opener for him.  But one must note that the cushion of wealth has always been there for him. Always. It’s not that he didn’t need to compete in college and business for his success but rather that he has never faced knowing in the recesses of his subconscious what most people know, that failure could be life-changing. F. Scott Fitzgerald, in his short story, The Rich Boy, seemed to think this way too when he said:

“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft, where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.”

I was reminded of this issue when an expensive clothing catalog arrived in today’s mail. I know how they got my name: Mollie got carried away one year and ordered something crazy expensive for me one Christmas. Now my name and address live indelibly in cyberspace, captioned no doubt “one of them”.  It was from a company I had never heard of before, but I found the prices astoundingly high. Who would pay such amounts? The clothes look nice, albeit a little odd to me, with a lot of the men’s stuff being pastel and such, but then maybe that’s part of the rich man’s uniform. I wouldn’t know. I took a picture of one of the pages to show you a sample. These sport coats, 55% silk/ 45% wool, are $705 each. The shirts (gingham? really?) are $195. Each. This is typical of the rest of the catalog. The shipping fee of $28 for orders over $600 seems positively teensy by comparison.

Yes, it does appear that we are entering a new era, one similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s when the rich were soaring and the chasm between giddy high society and the working stiffs was vast. But, thanks to social media and gadgetry maybe this time more of us will get to watch how the other 10%, lives.

Hmm.  I wonder if Mitt Romney trades his jeans for pastels when he’s not on the hustings?

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About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Independent, tending progressive as the GOP recedes from its Eisenhower roots.
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12 Responses to Mitt and Me, a Jazz Age Comparison

  1. ansonburlingame says:

    You do not like Romney because he is rich and is “wooden” in the manner in which he communicates with “the rest of us” seems to be your point I suppose. I like a man that has proven himself to be successful in a very competitive world and the measure of his success is the money made, legally, as you pointed out. I would suggest ethically as well. Romney, with his “strict Mormon faith” that you distrust (as said in previous blogs and comments), does not show me at least the “character” that would allow him to “rape, pillage and burn” to landscape in a vain attempt the make money. But that is just my personal view for sure.

    Someone with Romney’s background has PROVEN a very fundamental capability, to be able to achieve an ROI on the money spent (in business) that exceeds the money paid out to borrow such money. In other words he took financial risks with his own and borrowed money and “won” hands down over the course of 25 or more years in very competitive markets.

    Obama on the other hand has NEVER “run a business” or achieved an ROI that keeps people employed and creates wealth to be reinvested to continue the cycle. He borrows money based on “needs” and never pays it back thus driving the “business” of a nation deeper and deeper into debt.

    You try to paint Romney as a tyrant of sorts with no understanding of or compassion for “the folks” as O’Reilly would call “us”. I beg to differ. As well I see Obama as a “community organizer” that is in so far over his head that he is floundering, and driving the country DOWN in doing so. You will beg to differ on that view I am sure as well.

    Thus we await Nov 2012 and probaly more stalemate and more vindictiveness in these blogs.

    Anson

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      I believe character in a President is important. Doubt if anyone would disagree with that. What I have posted was intended to highlight an aspect of Romney’s character and background as I perceive it, and that same out-of-touch aspect has been discussed not only by the left but commentators on the right as well. Clearly such things are a matter of subjective judgement and since we are all human beings with varied backgrounds, such judgements must of necessity be filtered through the skein of our various personalities and life experiences. I intended my post to be critical to invite the reader to share and evaluate the same concern I have.

      I did another post Sunday on how another government, two lifetimes ago, created an economic catastrophe by concentrating on ROI while exploiting the poor. Do I expect that to happen again, here in America? Of course not, at least as long as we still have two strong political parties to balance one another in this country. But severe neglect is possible. We have just passed through the Great Recession because of a runaway Wall Street obsession with ROI while ignoring the interests of millions of gullible homeowners. I fear any president who might have a similar blind spot, who would care for the ROI only. I think it’s a fair issue, especially since Mr. Romney in his various interviews seems focused on money as paramount. His religion is also part of the package to be evaluated simply because the LDS Church is unusually concerned with its material worldview and unusually effective in collecting and plying money towards it objectives.

      It is surely true that President Obama has never been a successful businessman, but government is not a business. Does government need to understand business to properly regulate it? Of course it does, but not I submit in the detail it takes to actually run one. There are plenty of good advisors around to help. FDR was no businessman, nor were Ike and JFK.

      If Mitt Romney wins the presidency I hope all my concerns in this post prove to be groundless, which I fully admit they might. But in the meantime, color me skeptical.

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  2. ansonburlingame says:

    Well said, Jim, and I understand your skepticism. I have my own skepticism as well for any politician.

    But consider, please, that when I speak of ROI from government spending I do NOT mean money. Government ultimately spends money to improve the human condition in America and that is the ROI, improvement (not stagnation) of human conditions in America.

    If government spends money on defense we should be well defended, which we are today. If government spends money on “welfare” we should expect and IMPROVEMENT is such “poor” conditions, not just stagnation, keeping the poor in poverty. In my view our 50 years and running entitlement society has NOT raised people out of bad conditions, the $Trillions spend by and large just makes the “bad” conditions, not quite as “bad”.

    I look for innovation to RAISE people out of “bad” conditions, not just let such conditions perpetuate.

    I have also after several tries figured out what is going on with wordpress here. I must log off and then log back in for each comment that I attempt to insert on your blog. That is not the case on Duane’s blog or my own. No accusations for sure, just a new “twist” on wordpress.

    Anson

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  3. Jim,

    You are right that it is not Romney’s wealth that is so off-putting about him, but his strange and stilted detachment. And certainly part of that detachment is rooted in riches, where a young man growing up always—and I mean always—knows there is a net beneath his high-wire adventures, whatever they are. What many daring acts many of us could have pulled off if not for the very real fear of hitting the pavement with a splat.

    I noticed something I had never noticed before in that Fitzgerald quote. Softness and cynicism are coupled together while so are hardness and trustfulness. What and odd construction to my mind, but what a blazing truth.

    Duane

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Right, Duane. Maybe that’s why Fitzgerald is so highly regarded by literature buffs. He says the unexpected, but it is always founded in a keen understanding of human behavior. Softness derives from smug reliance on that base of wealth – it equals security in the full sense of the word. The cynicism comes from the perception that lesser creatures do not have such security (and just maybe don’t deserve it anyway).

      Somehow I never got around to reading The Great Gatsby, so I decided to finally do it and now am 90% finished. While his is not a style I usually choose, I detect throughout the novel that same ability to limn human strengths and weaknesses in a way that improves understanding. It is a gossipy, voyeuristic kind of ride.

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  4. PiedType says:

    I concur that Romney is stilted and wooden and that much of it derives from an insulated life of wealth and ease. But I know firsthand that not all wealthy individual are so detached. I’ve a very well-to-do relative who moves naturally and comfortably among all kinds of people. No, it’s not the money; It’s Mitt himself. It’s painful to witness. But what really gets to me is his constantly changing positions on issues. He’s changed so often, there’s no telling what he’ll say next week and it doesn’t matter what he says today.There’s no way of knowing what you’re voting for,

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Exactly right, PT. With Santorum you would be voting for passionate religiosity, with Paul, consistent Libertarianism, with Gingrich aggressive pursuit of random big ideas powered by a big ego but cheapened by blatant pandering ($2.50 gasoline). But Romney is a tabula rasa, at least to the public. A Presidential campaign is a heck of a lot of trouble, so he must be powerfully motivated, but by what? It doesn’t seem to be issues. It’s a problem.

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  5. Perhaps wealth is all in the eye of the beholder – or the have-nots.

    Ann Romney: I’m not wealthy
    THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Tuesday, March 06, 2012

    WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney’s wife says she doesn’t consider herself to be wealthy.

    Like

    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Actually, Helen, in all fairness I believe that remark has been used out of context. I heard her saying that and it was in the context of her knowing that other things like health and family values transcend wealth.

      Like

      • ansonburlingame says:

        Now THAT, Jim is as fair and balanced as one can be!!! I too heard the remark and it is a typical view held by Mormons as well as others with deep faith. Wealthy to such folks is NOT money or possessions, it is deeper things like real values practiced all their lives. She was being HUMBLE is saying such words because she does not consider her self “wealthy” in the eyes of God, nor does Mitt, in my view.

        I also add to Pied and Helen, and Jim as well, that I find it difficult to belive you are confused about where Romney really stands on the issues at hand. In fact just his 59 point plan is NOT one that will ever catch fire in a campaign. Who wants to read or receive a lecture on 59 different points. There just as an example is your perceived “woodenness”.

        Ask Romney how to run a profitable business and give him two minutes to tell you and your would hear “nothing”. Same with asking him how to “fix” the economy of nation and after a while you get “59 points” back. You don’t “hear” the points, read what they are and thus say you don’t know what he is talking about. But, maybe, HE DOES.

        But give Romney a good set of “handouts” and three hours with a Board of Directors in a failing business, and that BOD will probably come out of the meeting patting themselves on the back for “hiring Mitt”. “Wooden” to an electorate but “brillant” to a BOD, maybe.

        Romney KNOWS, in his heart, that he was a leader in the world of business. He believes, in his heart, that such past leadership can be transistioned to political leadership of a nation. And with his faith, I “suspect” he believes he is being called by God to pursue that mantel of national leadership, thought he would NEVER say that on the campaign trail. Romney, driven by faith has assumed many tasks in his life and believes he is following “God’s Plan” or “direction” of whatever. But he also believes God will not “give him” anything. He must achieve success, as a missionary, a business man or a politician, all by himself.

        Consider again, Woodward’s last book on the decision making leading up to the “surge” in Afghanistan IN 2009. With Romney as President with a decision making process for other matters, Woodward in my view would be writing and reporting about a FAR different way of reaching decisions and then carrying them out.

        Put Gingrich at the head of that table and Petraus would say, “Which of those big ideas do you want me to really start working on?” Put Santorum at the head of the table and Petraus would say, “Which chapter of the Bible should I be using as my new battle plan?”

        Put Obama at the head to the table and you GOT a “mini-surge” over the objection of Patreus and three years later retreat, defeat and coming humiliation “just like Vietnam”!!!

        Anson

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  6. ansonburlingame says:

    I suggest both of you read Sowell’s column in Wed Globe. He puts his intellect and research to work to essentially write what hinted at, above. Black unemployment, black marriges, etc. during JIM CROW eras were “better” statistically than ever since the Great Society programs.

    “Race is just one of the areas in which rhetoric and reality often go in opposite directions”

    “Whether the policies that accompany that rhetoric make people better off or worse off is far leass of a concern …..”

    We have at least a 50 year history now of very aggressive social government programs to raise the lot of the “poor”. $Trillions have been spent on such programs. Yet……..

    To me that is the real “core” of this years election.

    Anson

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  7. ansonburlingame says:

    I add to the above reply to Jim, Helen and Pied, that I AGREE that Romney has “flip-floped” on health care reform, to a degree. He accepted a mandate to purchase insurance by MA residents and said, given the circumstances in MA, it was the correct thing to do. Now he calls for the repeal, unequivocally and without reservation, of Obamacare, containing the same mandate, but for the entire nation.

    On the campaign trail THAT is called “flip-flopping” despite any attempts to “explain” your new positions. Guilty as accused, for sure. But then, so what? Is there any question in anyone’s mind that he will do everything possible in the Executive Branch to limit and stall the implementation of ACA, whatever the SC decides before the election. As well he will promote full repeal of ACA as President and for sure sign such a bill that reaches his desk.

    Either he “changed his mind” or instead felt that while is might have been “good for MA” ii is bad for a nation. But again, who cares. It is only a question of what he will do in terms of ACA if elected.

    On that point, there is NO DOUBT in my mind where he stands or what he will do, Do you have any questions about his position of just that single point? Has he been “wooden” in expressing his intentions, if elected President?

    Anson

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