This description appears as quote in a recent article by Robert Draper in the New York Times, who cites a longtime aide of Mitt’s who said that he is ”more Richie Cunningham of Happy Days than Gordon Gekko of Wall Street.”
For the young folks out there, Richie Cunnigham was the likeable, nice guy of the TV series, Happy Days who is described by Wikipedia as “exceedingly wholesome and, with his red hair and freckles” and “ did not seem to have a malicious bone in his body.” Cunningham was played by Ron Howard, best known recently as a producer and director rather than the actor he was from his early youth, first as Opie on The Andy Griffith Show and later in George Lucas’ American Graffiti.
Gordon Gekko on the other hand, is “a wealthy, unscrupulous corporate raider” in the very cynical movie directed by Oliver Stone, Wall Street. Although a sequel last year showed Gekko as apparently redeemed, he remains the face of corporate greed, relevant today because participants in Occupy Wall Street among others have tried to associate the names Romney and Gekko on more than one occasion.
Nevertheless, the description of Mitt as Richie Cunningham tracks with the experience we had those many years ago and about which we write here at times. As appears in Wikipedia, which speaks of Richie’s relationship with those around him, he “was always ready to help any of these friends if they got into trouble and also looked after his younger sister Joanie as she grew up.”
That is a perfectly apt description of Mitt in his early years, and in fact even today. One of his adventures as a missionary in France became something of a legend among the others with whom he served. Mitt recounted the story to the Boston Globe:
NANTES, France –Elder Romney didn’t even have time to put on his shoes.
The 19-year-old missionary was in his apartment when a woman burst in to say some Frenchmen were beating up one of his fellow Mormons down the street.
The barefoot Mitt Romney, who had been in France for just six months, joined his roommates in rushing into the snowy night.
They found a team of rugby players, drowning their sorrows after a lost match, hassling two female missionaries. The women had cried out ”Allez-y!” which means ”go on,” rather than ”Allez-vous en,” meaning ”Go away.” The male missionary who leapt to their defense had been punched out. Romney ended up with a badly bruised jaw.
”There were about 20 guys, very large and very muscular, and we were a group of very young and very small American guys,” Romney would recall 40 years later. ”If you get into a fight with Muhammad Ali, you don’t return the punch, you just put your arms up.”
Mitt and the others were hauled off the police station, but when all was explained, no charges were filed.
This does serve to illustrate, however, that Mitt is truly a good guy who wants to help folks around him. It also supports the idea that he now wants to render service to his country, something he repeats often on the campaign trail. While he has made money in his successful business career, his success should illustrate his commitment to excellence rather than to any instinct of corporate greed. The fact that he worked for no salary when he ran the Olympics as well as served as governor of Massachusetts should help people understand that he does what he does out of the desire to serve, NOT for personal aggrandizement as so many people suggest.
His approach to life and service certainly belies the title of Draper’s article that prompted this post and which holds more than a small dose of cynicism: “Building a Better Mitt Romney-Bot.” The author quotes people who wonder whether Mitt would make a good president. Given the success MItt has achieved in everything he has undertaken (missionary experience, raising a family, pursuing a top-notch education, leading and later rescuing Bain Consulting, growing Bain Capital, directing the Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games, serving as governor of Massachusetts), one has to wonder how in the world there could be a question in anyone’s mind regarding his ability to succeed at whatever he sets his mind!