All through the Republican convention, all we heard from media pundits was how Romney needed to humanize himself, and clearly that was a major goal for their convention. They tried to do it a whole bunch of different ways: Ann Romney's speech, stories from people who had known Romney over the years talking about what a great guy he was, warm and fuzzy videos, and Romney's own speech, where he talked about his family and early days in business. None of it really worked very well; Romney still came off as stiff and robotic. Even walking down the aisle of the convention center, shaking hands with his most loyal supporters, he never looked comfortable.
Now, though, with the video that Mother Jones just broke, from the Romney meeting with his most elite, millionaire megadonors and fundraisers, we have finally seen the real Mitt Romney. Sounding relaxed, confident, and even impassioned at times, Romney showed what his true values and beliefs were and revealed the private man behind the public candidate.
Now we know why he looks so stiff in his public appearances: He really doesn't want regular voters to see who he really is.
For 32 years now, I have been working on campaigns or with political leaders as a staffer, consultant, or informal adviser, and one of my most fundamental rules for successful campaigns is that a candidate needs to be who he or she is and not try to be something they aren't, because voters will see through the phoniness most of the time. Most of the time, with decent people, whatever kind of people they are are can be turned into an asset on the campaign trail. Insider, outsider, wonky, funny, folksy, intense -- voters look for different things in different candidates, and a lot of different ways of being can work. But the problem for Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan is that the values they hold, the kind of people they really are, is not something that is very appealing.
Romney and Ryan really do believe the things Romney said in the video. They really do think that the people not supporting them are lazy no-accounts who are dependent on government and who believe they are victims. And they really do think it is their job to not worry about those people, even if they believe about half of all Americans are such people.
And here's the most interesting thing of all. Historically, most candidates who would get caught saying something even remotely as offensive as that would be apologizing and backtracking as quickly as they possibly could. "I was tired," they might say; "It was out of context"; "I sincerely apologize for the misstatement." But not Mitt: He is standing by what he said, allowing only that it was "inelegantly" phrased. As embarrassing as this statement is, he can't back away, because this is what the Republican base completely believes, and he can't afford to offend them.
This is the philosophy of Ayn Rand, whom Paul Ryan has acknowledged as the person who inspired his political beliefs, but clearly Romney believes in her philosophy, as well. It's the philosophy that anyone not wealthy and successful, anyone who ever needs a hand up from the rest of us at any point in his or her life, is a leech on society and a moocher who steals from the virtuous. This includes anyone who gets any form of help from the government (except of course businesspeople, even though they use roads and bridges and airports and educated workers and tax subsidies), such as Social Security, or Medicare, or Medicaid, or Pell Grants, or student loans, or disability payments, or Head Start, or veterans' benefits. It even includes, as Romney alluded to in his remarks to the millionaire supporters, unemployed people, and part-time workers, and students, and retirees too poor to pay income taxes (even if they do pay sales and property taxes and all kinds of fees).
They also believe, like Rand, that anyone who opposes these ideas, even if they are successful themselves, are "looters," enablers of these parasites of society who don't take responsibility for their lives. That's why Romney believes that anyone supporting Obama is a bad person, someone who believes in dependency.
The Romney-Ryan-Rand philosophy is to have government serve the financially successful and take money away from the "moochers." This is the real them, and they aren't going to apologize for it. While I'm sure the Romney campaign is very unhappy that this video came out, because its brutal honesty about Romney's values is so stark and off-message, they can't back away, because it is what the modern Republican Party believes to its core.
These are not the values I was taught in Sunday school, and not the values that made this country great. The people who founded this nation, and those who built and held it together through all the trials and tribulations that came along in the 236 years to follow, knew that, as Ben Franklin said, we'd better all hang together or we'll all hang separately. They knew, as Jefferson did, that we had to build schools and roads and bridges in order to build the country. They knew, as Lincoln did, that creating land-grant universities and giving poor people free land through the Homestead Act would add to America's greatness. They knew, as Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt did, that sometimes the wealthy and powerful abused their power and needed to be reined in, and that sometimes the old and the poor needed to be given aid. And they knew, as Martin Luther King, Jr. did, that our fates are "inextricably linked in a garment of destiny."
You know who else knew that the values Mitt Romney expressed in that video were wrong? That guy I learned about in Sunday school, the guy Romney and Ryan claim to be followers of. In the one time he actually talked about how people would be judged, Jesus of Nazareth said that when the nations -- including ours, presumably -- are assembled before him in the last judgment, he will decide their fate based on one thing: how they treated the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the prisoner, "the least of these." If Mitt Romney's and Paul Ryan's values and policies are the ones we choose, I'm guessing this nation won't fare so well in such a judgment.