Countless fact-checkers and political analysts have torn apart the questionable content of Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s RNC speech, and during Mitt Romney’s speech, the presidential candidate parroted nearly every one of Ryan’s lies in an equally delusional but nearly as noteworthy manner.
What is worth noting, however, is the fact that Romney wasn’t even honest about the circumstances of his life. Whether it was in his speech, in the documentary that his campaign aired on the final day of the campaign, or by proxies like his wife and colleagues, Romney’s life read more like ultra-conservative fan-fiction than like his actual biography.
CHAPTER 1: GRANDSON OF REFUGEES
The Fiction: During the autobiographical video that aired before Clint Eastwood and Invisible Obama took the stage, Mitt narrated his family history by calling his grandparents “refugees of a revolution.” In his speech, Romney again made reference to this, telling the crowd that he “grew up with stories of [his father's] family being fed by the US government as war refugees.” It’s a touching and harrowing story. Unfortunately, it’s family fiction, not history.
The Facts: It’s true that Mitt’s grandfather Gaskell Romney grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico, but it’s not because the Romneys are originally from Mexico. Mitt’s great-grandfather Miles fled the United States in 1885 with his four wives and thirty children to avoid prosecution. Polygamy was, and still is, illegal in the US – but it is legal in Chihuahua.
Romney’s father George was born in Mexico to US citizens living in Mexico. The fact that George and his parents relocated back to the US does not make them “refugees”; it makes them some of the most privileged people imaginable. When the Mexican Revolution broke out, the Romneys were able to return to the United States – not like the actual Mexican civilians that were killed during the war. Romney’s Thursday night history rewrite is not only inaccurate, but its also an insult to the thousands who died in the violence that lasted for decades.
CHAPTER 2: THE LEAN YEARS
The Fiction: When Ann Romney took the stage, she was charming, affable, and relatable. Basically, she was the polar opposite of what her husband has been during his campaign. Ann spoke from the heart, about love, family, and struggle. She specifically reached out to all the moms – “single, married, widowed, who hold this country together” – with her personal stories of struggle as a new mom. Ann remembered their lean years, when they “ate a lot of tuna fish and pasta” and their “dining room table was a fold-down ironing board.” All in all, Ann’s speech painted a picture of humble beginnings that grew into a fairy tale.
The Facts: Ann Romney didn’t lie outright, but some important aspects of their “humble beginnings” were glossed over in that much lauded speech. As Huffington Post’s Larry Womack wrote, “I went camping once. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t what homelessness feels like.”
And he’s absolutely right. During their years of youthful destitution, Mitt was receiving an allowance from his parents that was big enough for him to take regular flights from Stanford to Ann’s home in Michigan. The two of them weren’t crippled by student loan debt because their parents paid their way through college – a far cry from today’s student experience where the average college student graduates with $25,000 in debt. And the investment the pair “chipped away at” while they were struggling newlyweds? That was the American Motors stock that Mitt’s father had given him as a boy, which by that time was sixteen times its original value. In 1969, Mitt and Ann sold at least $60,000, which today would be $377,000. That’s hardly a sum most struggling couples who don’t have jobs get their hands on in one fell swoop.
And speaking of things Mitt’s dad gave them, the young couple received a car while they were still undergraduates. Once they moved to Boston for Romney to pursue his Harvard law and business degrees, his father lent them the money to purchase a house. The house they purchased with dad’s money cost $42,000 in 1971, the equivalent of $223,000 today – not too shabby for a grad student and his stay at home wife.
CHAPTER 3: RISKING IT ALL – BEGINNING BAIN CAPITAL
The Fiction: At the convention, the Bain Capital skeleton was dusted off and brought out to be praised as evidence of Romney’s superior business acumen. Ann Romney reflected on that time when “a small group of friends talked about starting a new company…[and] when they struggled and wondered if the whole idea just wasn’t going to work.” A nerve-wracking dilemma identical to the one that plagues every emerging small business owner, right?
The Facts: Wrong. Unlike your average small-business owner or entrepreneur, Mitt Romney risked literally nothing to start Bain Capital. Romney landed a Boston based consulting job right out of business school before moving to Bain & Co. in 1977. After working there for six years, he was approached by the firm’s founder Bill Bain to head up a spin-off company – an offer that he refused.
Romney told his boss that he was interested, but unwilling to stake his reputation – or his salary – on a business experiment. It’s hardly the entrepreneurial spirit that conservatives champion as an excuse to ignore the poor. So Bain made another offer, one that guaranteed Romney not only his old job and salary in the event of failure, but a pre-drafted public relations story that claimed Romney returned to Bain & Co. due to a need within that company.
So yes, Mitt Romney did embark on an exciting new journey to start a business – at literally no risk to him in any sense.
It’s no surprise that a candidate is spinning aspects of his life for political gain. It’s a trick that is as old as politics itself. But to transform the events of one’s life to the point that they are no longer factually supported by any stretch of the imagination is new and concerning territory, even for this field.
But wait, there’s more!
Check back tomorrow for Mitt Romney’s Autobiography: A Work of Fiction, Vol. II