Who Is the Real Mitt Romney?

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

My favorite story about Mitt Romney is a very flattering one.

The 14-year-old daughter of a Bain partner of Romney’s went out to play tennis one Saturday afternoon near her home in Connecticut and didn’t come back. Her frantic parents learned the next morning that she had gone into New York City for a party with friends. But then the friends returned home without her. Over the next few days, the distraught father walked alone through the streets of Manhattan, looking for his daughter. Then he confided in Romney.

Romney shut down the Bain offices and flew several dozen Bain partners and employees to New York, where they set up a command center at the LaGuardia Marriott, hired a private investigator, set up a tip line, coordinated with the NYPD, asked their printer, R.R. Donnelley, to print 300,000 fliers with the young woman’s face on them and started to paint the town with those posters.

They explained the situation to business partners at Price Waterhouse, Goldman Sachs, Bankers Trust and Morgan Stanley, who added some 200 volunteers to the search. Bain employees and their investment banker buddies got copies of the Village Voice; started looking for clubs, parties and concerts; and then set out on foot to search for the missing child. Romney himself went through rave clubs in New York, talking to kids with spiked hair and nose rings, showing photographs of the young woman, asking whether anyone had seen her.

She was found in the home of a teenage kid in New Jersey, suffering from an overdose of Ecstasy. She had been traced by police after the kid called the tip line and then hung up.

Being inside the circle of people Romney cares about is a very lucky place to be.

The Washington Post did a lengthy profile earlier this year on Romney and his faith, highlighting examples of Romney’s efforts to support and protect immigrant members of his church and finessing questions of how they got here. One group of recent Haitian immigrants in Boston was eager to get money from church headquarters to fund a new building for the young congregation. Romney urged them to make their case for a new building by increasing church attendance. On some Sundays, to help them along, Romney would show up with 20 members of his family.

That is the real Mitt Romney.

What about the other Mitt Romneys? What about the Romney who took a position to the right of Texas Gov. Rick Perry on immigration? What about the Romney who said there are 47 percent “who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them”?

That is the real Romney, too.

The Romney who ridicules Obamacare is real. And just as real is the Romney who said proudly in the second debate, “As governor of my state, I was able to get 100 percent of my people insured, all my kids, about 98 percent of the adults.”

(“All my kids” — that was Romney’s best line of the night.)

These are all the real Mitt Romney.

The question “Who is the real Mitt Romney?” just has the wrong construction. It assumes that there is some fixed “Mitt Romney” that is real, everything else is false and if we only knew which one is real, we would know how he would act as president.

Personality is a fluid thing — a changing blend of tendencies meeting circumstances. There might be some exceptional people with just a few fixed principles that they act on in every circumstance, but these people don’t run for president, or if they do, they don’t run very far.

In some settings, Romney has shown he is motivated by wealth and power. In other settings, he is motivated by compassion. These are obviously often competing motivations. So the question is not who the real Mitt Romney is but what setting he is in. What are the dominant incentives in that setting?

Would the set of incentives that would surround him in the Oval Office be like the incentives he faced in his role as a family man and neighbor, as a Mormon bishop, as the governor of Massachusetts or as a candidate for the Republican nomination, or would they be like something else entirely?

If we can answer that, we might get a sense of how he would act as president. But in any case, we should get over asking about the real Mitt Romney. All the Mitt Romneys are real — even if some look very different from others.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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