By Jason Horowitz, GQ
The GOP hopeful likes to portray himself as a self-made man, who inherited nothing and counted every penny. But he's his father's son, and so much of what he has -- from his frugal ways to his many privileges -- comes straight from George Romney.
Gordon Clay, a teenager looking to save money for an upcoming Mormon mission, received a call in the summer of 1977 from his Belmont, Mass., neighbor Mitt Romney.
Romney, then a thriving financial consultant and top official in the Boston church, hired Clay to brush a fresh coat of white paint on his family's starter home near the Win Brook elementary schoolhouse. About two weeks into the job, Clay brought in his friend Brick Bushman, the son of the Richard Bushman, the Mormon church's highest authority, to speed things up. Except for Clay's stumble from a ladder that prompted a chilly look from Romney's wife, Ann, the job went smoothly. At summer's end, Romney cut Clay a check for the agreed upon sum.
It was only later that Clay learned that his partner, Bushman, had received $3 an hour as opposed to the $2.50 an hour he himself earned. Clay asked his buddy why he got more, to which he said Bushman answered, "'I asked for it.'"
"That was the one great lessons I learned from Mitt Romney," Clay, now a defense analyst in Washington, told me. "If you want to get something from him you better be able to ask him for it. Because he is not going to give you anything he doesn't have to."
The Romney campaign has seized on their candidate's tightness with a buck as a qualifying characteristic for a Republican vowing to cut spending and bring down the deficit. It can also be endearing trait for a guy who often isn't so endearing. The crowd at the Republican National Convention in Tampa giggled at a video featuring the jerry-rigged tinfoil flap that Romney used to cover an ill-fitting light bulb in his kitchen's oven hood. In campaign-approved speeches and interviews, his family and friends call him the most frugal man they've ever met. It's a trait, they say, passed down to him from a father who would rather eat his accidentally salted ice cream than throw it away.
Notions of inheritance and his father's example loom large over Romney's campaign and life. He often cites his father's riches-to-rags-to-riches story as evidence of his own everyman bona fides, apparently believing that his father transmitted him his frugality and work ethic along with his lantern jaw. But in the Romney view, the transfer of genetic material from father to son has not included the advantages that come with being a to-the-manner-born son of an auto executive, governor, and presidential candidate.
And that's where things get complicated. It is Romney's refusal to allow that he is a son of privilege that has made his second-hand thrift as much a political liability as it is a folksy asset. The Obama campaign has effectively made a prolonged, brutal attack on Romney's wealth their central campaign message. ("Mitt Romney can sure afford to pay a little more," Obama said in a typical attack at a campaign rally in Milwaukee this month.)
But Romney, without apology, continues to consider himself self-made.
At the surreptitiously taped Boca Raton fundraiser -- better known as the venue where Romney delivered his "47 percent" doctrine describing recipients of government assistance as "victims" -- the candidate also had something to say on the subject of his pedigree. He said that though his and his wife Ann's fathers "did quite well," when they "passed along inheritances to Ann and to me, we both decided to give it all away. So, I had inherited nothing. Everything that Ann and I have we earned the old-fashioned way, and that's by hard work." The crowd applauded. He added, "I say that because there's the percent that's, 'Oh, you were born with a silver spoon,' you know, "You never had to earn anything," and so forth. And, and frankly, I was born with a silver spoon, which is the greatest gift you could have, which is to get born in America."
Read the rest of this story on GQ.com: A Brief History of Mitt Romney, Total Cheapskate
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