David Brooks paints a sympathetic picture of Mitt Romney in the New York TImes today, from a distinctive angle that many who share Romney’s faith would quickly resonate to. His argument is, first, that Romney is anything but a coddled rich kid.
Romney did not inherit any wealth. He built it all himself. But more to the point, Brooks suggests, is that Romney demonstrates a restless striving that can be traced to his family roots. It’s a family culture of hard work and rising against seemingly impossible odds over multiple generations.
“He may have character flaws, but he does not have the character flaws normally associated with great wealth. His signature is focus and persistence. The wealth issue is a sideshow.”
There is one oddity in Brooks’ narrative that gets to the core of Mormon culture, and which Brooks could not be expected to grasp. He refers more than once to Romney’s ancestors being “commanded” by Brigham Young, and meekly obeying. But this image of abject obedience is at odds with the feisty determination and independence of action that characterizes the clan at every turn.
Romney might be a little uncomfortable with Brooks’ characterization of the early Utah experience, in which Brigham Young took an extremely strong personal hand in colonizing the West, calling people hither and yon.
It’s certainly not an image calculated to reassure those uncertain about Romney’s independence from Salt Lake, should he win the White House. Those less familiar with the Church may not realize that the 19th Century pioneer experience is far removed from the 21st Century institution. Or that a Church to which Harry Reid, Glenn Beck, and Mitt Romney all belong would be hard-pressed to tell any of these what to do.
But setting all that aside, Brooks deserves credit here for looking beyond the obvious to figure out what makes a man who he is. Family, culture and heritage matter.
Read the Brooks piece here.