While the first two days of the Republican National Convention felt like a standard convention, the third day felt like something else entirely. It felt like the defense in a criminal trial. Character witnesses paraded up and down the RNC stage, praising everything from Mitt Romney’s compassion within his church to his integrity in business.
“How many men do you know who would take time out of their busy schedule to visit a terminally ill 14 year old?” asked the wife of the first family. “They treated our son as one of their own, like a sixth son,” said Pam Finlayson, another family friend. Finlayson fondly recalled how Mitt and Ann brought food and prayers to the hospital where their incredibly ill young daughter was fighting for her life. A member of Mitt’s church recalled how devoted he was to parishioners. An Olympian who lived with the Romneys briefly said, “”I know him as a father, and as a very very busy grandfather.”
There were touching videos of Mitt and Ann talking about her MS diagnosis. There were adorable home videos, narrated and taken by the candidate himself. There was a retrospective about George Romney, too, Mitt’s popular governor father. There’s no denying that Mitt Romney is a family man, and a decent neighbor. But Mitt Romney, in business and in his campaign, has not treated strangers – who are also people – with that same compassion and kindness.
It’s no secret that Mitt Romney tithes to his church, and it’s no surprise that he treats people he considers part of his flock with dignity and compassion. Unfortunately, Romney’s penchant for empathy begins and ends with those he knows personally. Yes, he brought a Thanksgiving feast to a struggling young family whose daughter was grievously ill – but he wants to impose dramatic cuts on government programs that also help families in need. Yes, he befriended a terminally ill child – but wants to repeal Obamacare, making it incredibly difficult for sick children to get health insurance due to their pre-existing condition. And though his wife is a breast cancer survivor, Mitt Romney wants to “get rid of” the largest provider of preventative health care for low-income women.
There’s a reason that the attempts to humanize Romney fell flat with those who are wary of him: Romney’s campaign promises don’t match the picture his friends and family painted. It’s hard to take his selflessness seriously when he vetoed $220,000 worth of state-run homelessness projects in Massachusetts. His commitment to family values certainly doesn’t extend past his own doorstep; Romney is opposed to same-sex domestic partnership benefits.
And while Mitt Romney may have been a great employer – we don’t know, because the RNC didn’t trot out any of Bain Capital’s lower level employees – he certainly recommended bad business practices to his clients. Staples, the company whose founder spoke at the RNC, is infamous for its low wages. Customer service representatives make just over the federal minimum wage, which leaves them below the federal poverty line. And for all the fawning over small businesses the Staples’ endorsement is ironic; the big box store had a crippling effect on small businesses all over the country. That’s how capitalism works, after all. Stores with the muscle to buy in bulk, negotiate discounts, and build brand loyalty through advertising win, and small businesses lose.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Mitt Romney would look out for the wealthy, the white, and the Mormon among us. It’s what he’s always done. But most of America doesn’t fit neatly into those familiar, Romney-approved categories. And no matter how personable Romney tries to be, no matter how much the GOP wants to sell their brand of social Darwinism as “tough love”, there’s no way he’s going to change his focus to include everyone else. This is a man who protested in favor of the draft, and then left the country to avoid it. This is a man who believes all it takes to serve your country is to step aside and let corporations ravage it as they please.
Perhaps some swing voters will be swayed by these heartfelt testimonials, but only if they never compare them to Romney’s record. His compassion may be real when it comes to his own, but the majority of America – the people of color, the poor, the women, the gay, the transgender – are not his own. And his compassion for us? Non-existent.