If Mitt Romney ever has a falling out with conservative buddy Bob Ritchie (a.k.a. Kid Rock) and therefore decides to replace Ritchie's "Born Free" with another official 2012 campaign theme song might I suggest "Mo Money, Mo Problems?" It certainly seems to fit, and frankly it is fast becoming not just an appropriate theme song for the Romney campaign but for all members of the much-maligned 1 percent, including the man responsible for giving us "Mo Money, Mo Problems" in the first place, hip-hop uber-mogul P. Diddy.
For the last couple of weeks Diddy, known for his ostentatious love of bling, brushes with the law, not to mention his ever-changing monikers, has faced criticism for an unusual reason: he apparently raised a great kid. His son Justin not only graduated from a prestigious high school but was awarded a full scholarship to UCLA. That fact, that the son of one of the wealthiest African-Americans in the country will be attending school on a full scholarship, has rankled many, so much so that the school felt the need to release a statement on the matter.
The reaction has been particularly interesting because Diddy's son is not the first wealthy offspring to be awarded a scholarship, and he is unlikely to be the last. (Click here to see a list of kids of celebrities, who grew up to become celebrity adults.) He is also not the first son or daughter of a celebrity to be awarded a scholarship. Denzel Washington's oldest son was also offered a college football scholarship. Washington graciously offered to pay his way, so that another student who actually needed the scholarship could benefit. As Washington has recounted in interviews, the school essentially told him his son earned the scholarship, not him, and his son was the only one who had the right to accept or decline. But while Washington may not have paid for his son's education he has helped subsidize the education of plenty of students in need with generous giving to his son's alma mater, Morehouse College. The fact that Washington's son and Washington himself managed to avoid unflattering media coverage regarding this issue, while Diddy and his family have not actually has much more to do with the men and what they represent, than their sons or any scholarship.
When people think of Denzel Washington, they think of a great actor, who also seems like a good guy. There are no stories of feuds with co-stars, or brushing off fans, and in Hollywood, where staying married for five years practically lands you in the matrimony Hall of Fame, he and his wife have been together for decades. But most of all, he is someone known for his generosity. In addition to supporting the academic pursuits of less privileged students, he and his wife have lent their names and checkbooks to a host of charities over the years, most notably to the Fisher House Foundation which provides housing services for the families of wounded military veterans.
So if Denzel Washington's son wins a scholarship no one's first thought is, "Gee, I wonder what poor kid will miss out on a chance to earn a college degree so his kid can get one?" Instead, if anyone thinks about it at all he may think "How nice... for his family and the school. I bet he and his wife will help other students there."
That's obviously not what most people thought of first when they heard that Diddy's son received a scholarship. This is because Diddy has spent most of his two decades in the public eye cultivating an image that screams a lot of things, but selfless and gracious are not among them. In addition to his run-ins with the law, which include accusations of assaulting business rivals, there is his ostentatious lifestyle which earned him the nickname "the King of Bling." From jewels to women he seems to like to collect the best -- or rather most expensive -- of everything and show it, or them, off accordingly. (At last count he had five kids by three different women -- all of them beautiful of course.) Then there was his longtime personal butler whose primary job at one point was to ensure that Diddy was shaded with an umbrella at all times, come sun or rain. He is also known for dropping these little nuggets of aspirational wisdom: "There is one person I really want to meet: the Queen of England. I don't know why I've never met her. She's never invited me to the palace -- not yet, anyway."
But most famously, or rather infamously, Diddy is well known for instilling in his children those values essential to shaping them into good global citizens; values like honesty, compassion, empathy and of course the importance of owning a Maybach. For those of you who just asked, "What's a Maybach?" don't feel bad. That just means you probably can't afford one. It is a car that cost over $300,000 dollars. For his 16th birthday Diddy purchased one for his son Justin. Apparently one was not sufficient because he then purchased him another for his 17th birthday. (Or maybe the first one was already considered passé one year later. As someone who has never owned a Maybach I am not entirely clear on purchasing trends as they pertain to them. Did I mention they cost over $300,000?)
Now, I can already hear some sympathetic fellow members of the 1 percent protesting: "It's his money and he can spend it how he chooses." You are absolutely correct. It is his money and there is no law against him spending it how he chooses. Just as there is no law against the rest of us passing judgment on how he chooses to spend it. If Diddy was someone known for regularly dropping half a million dollars on scholarships for needy students, instead of being known for spending more than half a million dollars impressing upon his son the importance of owning two cars that cost the equivalent of putting ten underprivileged students through college, then it is unlikely his son's scholarship would have been met with the same criticism.
As I have written before, contrary to the growing paranoia of some members of the 1 percent, Americans don't hate the wealthy. But many do detest the greedy. There is something incredibly distasteful about people blessed with much who not only decline to use it to help others who are less blessed, but appear to rub their blessings in the faces of those who are less fortunate, which if you are a member of the so-called 1 percent, is most of us. Buying not one Maybach, but two for a teenager, at a time in our country when many adults who have worked all of their lives cannot afford health insurance, doesn't make Diddy a bad person. But it does make him an incredibly callous and tone deaf one. Something he affirmed in the aftermath of scholarship-gate.
He could have handled the situation like Denzel Washington did, by graciously noting that while his son is fortunate not to need the scholarship, he wants to respect the fact that he did earn it and should get to make the choice to accept it. Then he could offer to help other students in need. Maybe he will, but so far he has not publicly stepped up to the plate. (Diddy has given to charity over the years but it has not been a defining part of his persona the way it has for many of his peers, including fellow hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.)
Or he could have done something else. An extremely wealthy acquaintance of mine (who has not authorized me to use his name for this piece) shared that his son declined a scholarship, specifically so a student in need could benefit from it instead. He didn't instruct his son to decline the scholarship. But he raised him to be considerate of those who are not as fortunate as he, and as a result his son made the decision to forego the scholarship on his own. (I'm sure this will come as a shock but he never bought his son a Maybach growing up. Coincidence?) Here's a surprising political twist. My acquaintance proudly describes himself as a conservative. Diddy, on the other hand has been a vocal supporter of liberal causes.
The scholarship debate is yet another reminder that no singular political party has ownership of words like grace, compassion, empathy or generosity. If you want to know someone's true values, see if they walk the walk and not just talk the talk. For instance, while there are a host of issues on which I may disagree with Michele Bachmann, I have always admired her willingness to serve as a foster mother for so many children in need. It shows her heart is in the right place, even if I don't always believe her policy head is.
Similarly Jon Huntsman and John McCain also opened their homes to children in need through adoption. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, who is wealthier than all three of these candidates, has not. Does that make him a bad person? No. But if you oppose abortion, and want to limit contraception access and so-called entitlement programs like welfare, and also happen to be a multi-millionaire whose wife spends $900 on shirts, yet you haven't managed to open your home to any children in need, it does give me some insight into where your heart and values are.
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