[I’m on vacation this week, but I’m reading and doing some metacommentary on Mitt Romney’s book. Enjoy, or skip over it: it’s a free country.]
Remember in the intro, where I complained that Mitt Romney didn’t mention any of his hardships? I think it might be because his greatest hardship in life was weeding his father’s garden when he was like 14. Here’s how he opens this chapter:
I hate to weed. I’ve hated it ever since my father put me to work weeding the garden at our home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. It was planted with zinnias, snapdragons, and petunias, none of which seemed to grow as heartily as the weeds. After what seemed like hours of work, I never could see much progress and I’d complain to my dad. “Mitt,” he would reply, “the pursuit of the difficult makes men strong.” It seems now like an awfully grandiose response for such a pedestrian task. I complained about the weeding often enough that I heard his homily regularly. I’m sure that’s why it sticks with me to this day.
Fathers and sons. Great stuff for literature. Unfortunately, in this case, it seems Mitt is going personal only so that in a few paragraphs he can say how America needs the same ability to face tough challenges. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first a little more of his father’s story:
My father knew what it meant to pursue the difficult. He was born in Mexico, where his Mormon grandparents had moved to escape religious persecution.
For a book that’s about USA! USA! USA! this is willing to call what America did to the Mormons “persecution.” I agree, incidentally. But I think an apology is reasonable for persecution. And as we’ll see later in this chapter, Romney thinks Obama mentioning any legit problem is the same as him apologizing for it. So I don’t know, Romney is apologizing for and complaining about America? Maybe it’s too much to hope he has a coherent narrative.
Anyway, more family history. They were forced to move back to America, not because of anything America offered, but because they were afraid of “Mexican revolutionaries.” So his grandparents suffered hardships. They had to leave everything they had and live off the land. His father had to go to work and support the family at a young age, and never graduated from college.* Anyway, all that hard work by his parents and grandparents leads back to Romney weeding.
Three decades later, by the time I was weeding that Bloomfield Hills garden, my father had become a successful businessman. I knew he worried that because my brother, sisters, and I had grown up in a prosperous family, we wouldn’t understand the lessons of hard work. That’s why he put us to work shoveling snow, raking leaves, mowing the lawn, planting the garden, and of course, weeding–always reminding us that work would make us strong.
I know that I don’t know enough to actually say lesson not learned about hard work. But Mitt doesn’t mention hard work he’s actually done since his parents did what parents do. He doesn’t mention any hard work he willingly undertook on his own. I mean, I don’t expect him to have worked a decade on the line at American Motors, but he could show something to demonstrate he knows about hard work beyond he had to mow the lawn and weed the garden sometimes.
Anyway, a bit more about his father doing actual good things at American Motors. And then it isn’t just individuals who have to work hard, but also much more broadly. Then several paragraphs about Staples that feel like he wanted to write them, but didn’t know exactly where to put them because they don’t really fit. A competent editor would help. And then:
Today the United States faces daunting challenges, and I am similarly convinced that if we confront them and overcome them, we will remain a strong and leading nation. Just like individuals, companies, and human enterprises of every kind, nations that are undaunted by the challenges they face become stronger. Those that shrink from difficult tasks become weaker.
The examples are that we defeated the British to gain our independence, we won the Second World War, and the moon launch. He mentions Detroit switching to building planes during the war, without ever mentioning that these were top down orders from the government. He talks about how there were failures of American satellite launches, but we kept making them until they did work and “we became the first** nation on earth to put a man on the moon.” I couldn’t help thinking when I read that, that I can imagine how the Tea Party and today’s GOP would have reacted each moment along the way if they were around in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
And we’re to a section called Facing our Challenges Head-on. it starts by saying we thought we didn’t have any challenges during the Clinton administration. So we cut our military and that was a terrible thing. As if our military should have been as large or larger after the collapse of global communism than before it. Then without mentioning the Bush administration, he says:
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, our economy has suffered its worst crisis since the Great Depression. We have amassed an unprecedented amount of debt and liabilities, and added to that, the Obama administration plans trillion-dollar deficits every year. Russian belligerence is on the rise. China holds over $750 billion of U.S. obligations. Iran and North Korea threaten the world with unbridled nuclear ambition. Violent jihadists like those who attacked us on 9/11 plot our destruction. The consequences of failure to act in response to these perils is unthinkable.
I know it’s a bit unfair to criticize Romney for things that happened after the book was written. But most of those things are better because Obama acted. The depression isn’t nearly as bad as if we hadn’t had a stimulus. Iran and North Korea are whatever is the opposite of unbridled. Bridled, I guess. Iran still doesn’t have nuclear weapons, and North Korea’s missiles keep exploding into the sea. They’re both more isolated than under the Bush administration. And of course, Bin Laden is dead and much of his terror network destroyed, unlike the decade we wasted in Iraq. I don’t agree with everything the administration has done to get there, but it’s silly to say they didn’t act. All that said, he clearly is attacking a caricature of President Obama.
The section concludes with a plea for a strong military without ever explaining how we’re supposed to pay for it. The only remarkable paragraph is this one:
Does America make mistakes? Absolutely. We never fully understood the enormously complex political, economic, and military issues we faced in Vietnam, and we were wrong in our assessment of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs. But in every case throughout modern history in which America has exercised military power, we have acted with good intention–not to colonize, not to subjugate, never to oppress.
First off: what do you do when you do something wrong but with good intentions? Oh, that’s right, you apologize to the people you wronged. That’s like human decency 101. So the No Apology book makes yet another case that there are places where America should apologize.
Second, does intent really matter? I mean the fact that we didn’t take the land in Iraq as our own is worth noting. But the dead in Iraq and Viet Nam don’t care about the country’s intentions. Our actions matter, and are what we should be held accountable for, good and bad.
We’ve reached the end of this section. Tomorrow, strategies countries can use to get ahead, and why Obama sux at foreign policy. Stay tuned.
* I didn’t know that about George Romney. I can’t think of anyone who had a serious chance of winning their party’s nomination not having graduated from college.
** Seriously, it makes it sound like there have been more countries than just us.