Mitt stated last night on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News that he regretted not having spoken as clearly as he should have when he said “I am not concerned about the very poor.” He actually used the phrase, “I misspoke.” Of course the Democrats had long before that moment not wasted any time producing an attack ad using his words against him. Despite his clarification, the Democrats will most assuredly take down their ad.
The press has also gotten into the act, with articles like one by Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post entitled “Why the poor should concern Romney” where she called the comment bone-headed. As one more example, Paul Krugman’s New York Times column, as would be expected, proclaims today that “Mitt Romney Isn’t Concerned.” And of course, not wanting to be outdone either by the Democrats or by the left-leaning press, Newt Gingrich has started throwing his elbows as well, with Rick Santorum joining the melee.
The hyperventilating by the press and punches from the Left were inevitable, and it seems that Gingrich’s now-expected meanness towards his fellow Republican should have led us to anticipate his less-than-gracious reaction.
In light of all of this, it seems useful to take a moment to review Mitt’s life-long history of concern for others, especially the poor. We already know from Bloomberg that Mitt gave over 16% of his income in charitable donation over the past two years, which comes to $7 million. I wrote previously here about the service that Mitt and his family rendered over the years on the welfare farms of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I also referenced here a New York Times article that cited comments by Philip Barlow, who had served as a “counselor” (assistant lay pastor) to Bishop (lay pastor) Mitt Romney in their “ward” (congregation) in Massachusetts.
Through a mutual friend I have exchanged e-mails with Philip regarding his church service with Mitt about 30 years ago in Massachusetts. In his response Philip pointed out an article he had written in the winter 2008 edition of Religion in the News, “When Romney Was a Bishop.” The piece provides an excellent overview of what it was like to work with Mitt during those years as well as provides a good description of him as a person.
Philip is a university professor and a Mormon, but he points out in his own statement that he has been “inclined more toward the Democratic than the Republican Party.” The entire piece is well worth reading for the insights that it provides into Mitt Romney as a person and as a servant of his fellow human beings, but I offer this overview from Philip’s piece:
While flourishing in his secular job, Bishop Romney was ultimately responsible for planning the ward’s worship services; fostering the physical, social, spiritual, and economic needs of church members and interested others; maintaining the chapel and church grounds; processing financial contributions; promoting the involvement and wellbeing of young people; staffing the ward organization; interviewing individual members for “worthiness” to enter the temple; marital and personal counseling; reaching out to the wider community; and coordinating with ecclesiastical superiors. It is a role in which one learns delegation.
Romney was effective. He seemed comfortable in his skin, verbally agile, eager to listen and to weigh opposing opinions in key decisions, ambitious to accomplish, and “apt to swim upstream” (his words) in pursuit of goals. He was also imaginative in responding to institutional and human problems, often prompting others to follow.
So, not only is Mitt concerned about the welfare of others, his performance has always been exceptional in that regard. Indeed, Jennifer Garza, a writer at the Sacramento Bee, reported in a piece carried by McClatchy that “Mitt Romney’s tax returns reveal that the Republican presidential candidate does something fewer Americans do these days: He tithes.” She also wrote, “Members are also expected to donate ‘fast offerings’.” Once a month, they skip two meals in a 24-hour period and that money is given to their bishop. He uses that money to help local church members.”
Garza also quotes comments that Mitt had made on Fox News Sunday:
The Bible speaks about providing tithes and offerings. I made a commitment to my church a long, long time ago that I would give 10 percent of my income to the church. And I followed through on that commitment,” Romney said. “And, hopefully, as people look at various individuals running for president, they’d be pleased with someone who made a promise to God and kept that promise.
So let’s summarize: Mitt donates 16.4% of his significant income to his church and to charity. He grew up working on the church’s welfare farm with his father and siblings, something he has no doubt continued in adulthood with his own children. He and his family follow the church’s counsel to go without two consecutive meals a month and make donations for the needy. This practice is explained as “observing the regular fast and contributing as generous a fast offering as we can, and as we are in a position to give. Wherever we can, we should give many times the value of the meals from which we abstained.”
Now let’s examine the performance of his opponents. An article in the Investment News provides some insights into the charitable giving practiced by various notable politicians including Speaker Gingrich (2.6% in 2010) and summarizes the patterns of the leaders of the current administration:
The Obamas donated less than 1 percent of their income from 2000 through 2004 and 5 percent of the money they made in 2005 and 2006, according to the tax returns they released. Vice President Joe Biden and his wife reported in 2008 giving an average of $369 to charity each year for a decade — less than 1 percent of their income.
Vice President Al Gore’s charitable contributions, as a percentage of his income, were below the national average: He gave 0.2 percent of his family income, one-seventh of the average for donating households. But Gore “gave at the office.” By using public office to give other peoples’ money to government programs, he was being charitable, as liberals increasingly, and conveniently, understand that word.
As Maggie Thatcher summarized so very well, “The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” My words are not as eloquent as hers, but I will nevertheless add that rather than criticizing Mitt Romney, Speaker Gingrich and the Democrats should put their money where their mouth is and follow Mitt’s excellent example!