Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Is Romney’s Rhetoric Backed by Character?

This year, Americans have a choice of who will occupy the White House for the next four years.  The presumed nominee for the Democratic Party, Barack Obama, is the only self-proclaimed evangelical on the two presidential tickets.  His Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, is a self-proclaimed Mormon, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Obama has the advantage of name recognition; and, perhaps a disadvantage in having a track record as president for four years that offers vulnerable targets for his critics.

A majority of self-professing evangelical Christians uphold the sanctity of human life, the sanctity of marriage as being between one man and one woman, and the freedom from coercion toward acts that violate religious convictions in the workplace.  President Obama upholds none of these basic foundations of morality and freedom.   Many social conservatives would say President Obama’s walk is inconsistent with his talk and with the Judeo-Christian principles that have undergirded and distinguished western civilization.   All of these positions should be taken into consideration between now and election day.

But what about Mitt Romney?   Are his actions consistent with his religious faith?  If we wish to be objective, both presidential candidates must be subjected to the same standards.   For example, unlike President Obama, Mitt Romney clearly defends the rights of the unborn, the sanctity of marriage as between a man and a woman, and exercise of religious freedom.  But is this lesser known candidate the “genuine article,” a person with integrity.   To choose a good leader, voters should know whether his walk matches his talk; and, that means seeing more than his tax returns.  [For elaboration, see Oikonomia, March 31, 2012 .]

So, is Mitt really a “good man” as some have said?  And, is he a “good man for the job.”   We may never agree as a nation on either count; or, on how to determine Romney’s “goodness.”  But, let’s see what we can glean from Romney’s own words and from the testimony of those who know him.  Then, we’ll use a third approach.   Because Mitt Romney appears to be reluctant to talk about himself and his accomplishments, we may gain more insights into the man from the answers he seems reluctant to give when he is pressed hard by questioners

First, from Romney himself [Commencement Address, Liberty University, May 12, 2012]:

The American culture promotes personal responsibility, the dignity of work, the value of education, the merit of service, devotion to a purpose greater than self, and, at the foundation, the pre-eminence of the family.   The power of these values is evidenced by a Brookings Institution study [reporting that for]… those who graduate from high school, get a full-time job, and marry before they have their first child, the probability that they will be poor is 2%. But, if those things are absent, 76% will be poor.   Culture matters. 

Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.

Someone once observed that the great drama of Christianity is not a crowd shot, following the movements of collectives or even nations.  The drama is always personal, individual, unfolding in one’s own life. We’re not alone in sensing this.  Men and women of every faith, and good people with none at all, sincerely strive to do right and lead a purpose-driven life.

Our relationship with our Maker… is entirely in our control, for He is always at the door, and knocks for us.  Our worldly successes cannot be guaranteed, but our ability to achieve spiritual success is entirely up to us, thanks to the grace of God.  The best advice I know is to give those worldly things your best but never your all, reserving the ultimate hope for the only one who can grant it.

People of different faiths, like yours and mine, sometimes wonder where we can meet in common purpose, when there are so many differences in creed and theology.  Surely the answer is that we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview.  The best case for this is always the example of Christian men and women working and witnessing to carry God’s love into every life – people like the late Chuck Colson.

Those who know Romney claim that it is just not his nature to speak up about his accomplishments.  Meanwhile, his opponents in the primaries, and more recently the Obama campaign, have portrayed him as a wealthy entrepreneur who gained his fortune through the ruthless maneuvering of Bain Capital.   But, here are some fact-checked bits of information that contradict the negative portrayal of Romney:  

Ilyn Ross blogs in “Reason Reigns:”

At the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, he inherited a $370 million deficit. He left behind a $100 million surplus, contributing $1 million of his own money, & drawing no salary for 3 years. As MA governor with both houses of the MA legislature having large Democratic majorities, Romney faced an immediate $650 million shortfall & a projected $3 billion deficit for the next year. By 2006, MA had a $600–700 million surplus. Romney drew a salary of $1 per year.

Mr. Grant Bennett, CEO of CPS Technologies and former consultant with Bain Capital stated at the recent RNC:

I have spent thousands of hours over many years with Mitt Romney.  We spent our time together serving our fellow men and women - we spent it serving in our church.  We embraced Christ's admonition: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

In our early morning calls, Mitt didn't discuss questions of theology. He found the definition of religion given by James in the New Testament to be a practical guide: "Pure religion ... is to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction."

So, what specifically did Mitt Romney do as our pastor?   For one or two evenings each week and several hours every weekend -- week after week and year after year -- he met with those seeking help with the burdens of real life, burdens we all face at one time or another: unemployment, sickness, financial distress, loneliness.  Mitt prayed with and counseled church members seeking spiritual direction, single mothers raising children, couples with marital problems, youth with addictions, immigrants separated from their families, and individuals whose heat had been shut off.

Mitt seldom delivered the sermon himself - he gave that opportunity to fellow church members.
He sought to involve everyone so everyone could grow.  Mitt taught faith in God, personal integrity, self-reliance and service to our fellow men.   And Mitt did what he challenged us to do. He led by example.   I treasure every minute we served together.  I am grateful for my apprenticeship in "the things that matter most" under the hands of a deeply good man named Mitt Romney.

From Ted Oparowski whose 14-year-old son was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma:

You cannot measure a man's character based on words he utters before adoring crowds during happy times. The true measure of a man is revealed in his actions during times of trouble.  The quiet hospital room of a dying boy, with no cameras and no reporters -- that is the time to make an assessment.

From Pam Finlayson, who gave birth to a daughter 3½ months premature resulting in severe heart and lung problems:

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,” she continued, as the partisan crowd listened in rapt silence. “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.

When it comes to loving our neighbor, we can talk about it or we can live it.  The Romneys live it every single day.

What is Romney hiding?  We may or may not agree with what Mitt Romney says, or with the positions he takes as a political leader.   We may also question the validity of what his close friends say.  But, we must at least consider those things Romney has only revealed when it seems he’d rather not ‘go there’ or which are revealed by reports from fact-finding research into his past.  Consider a few examples.

Because Mitt is the son of George Romney, former CEO of American Motors, he is sometimes portrayed as having been “born with a silver spoon in his mouth.”  However, when he has been pressed to speak about his inheritance, he responds as recorded by the NY Times:  

Except for a loan from his father to purchase his and Ann’s first home, in Belmont, MA for $42,000, Romney states:   I gave [my inheritance from my father] to a school which Brigham Young University established in his honor, the George W. Romney School of Public Management.

According to Monique Hamm reporting in Human Events (8/26/2012),

One instance that highlights Romney’s style of silent charity is Joey’s Park, a playground named in memory of Joey O’Donnell, who died of cystic fibrosis and was the son of a Romney neighbor.  Romney led the effort to build the park as well as its upkeep. “There he was with a hammer, a Mitt nobody sees,” Joseph O’Donnell, the father of the late boy, told the authors of “The Real Romney.” After the construction, Romney returned with a local Boy Scout troop to ensure that the memorial was maintained. “He did it for like the next five years, without ever calling to say, ‘We did this,’ without a reporter in tow, not looking for any credit.

In the final analysis, voting citizens of this great land must ask themselves, first, “How important is it that a candidate possess a character marked by virtues of humility and reverence for God, love for neighbor, respect for the sanctity of life and sanctity of marriage, valuing of individual effort and hard work, and respect of religious groups and their freedom to worship and practice their faith?”

Second, “Is it important that character virtues like those listed above are demonstrated through the candidate’s promises, actions, and policies?” And, third, “Are we willing to take the time to identify and evaluate the candidates on the basis of how well their words and their actions demonstrate virtuous character?”  As we individually hold ourselves to these standards, and then prayerfully seek answers to at least the three questions above, we will gain a better sense of which presidential candidate best demonstrates the qualities necessary to exercise leadership that America needs.

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