The 2012 presidential campaign continues apace with the press doing its level best to advance the narrative that Mitt Romney and his family are rich and hopelessly out of touch. Consider this excerpt from a New York Daily News story entitled “What do the simple folk do? Ask Mitt and Ann Romney as they grocery shop, visit home of coal miner ancestors.” The piece ran with the picture below and this rather sarcastic lede:
Mitt and Ann Romney’s humble roots have been on display in recent days, with the presidential candidate making a low-key trip to the grocery store and his wife visiting the seat of her coal mining ancestors.
The only problem with such a storyline is that Mitt and Ann are pretty much like everyone else and do many ordinary things like go to the grocery store. In addition and as hard as it apparently is for many people to believe, Mitt really does do his own laundry and change his grandkids diapers, as we have pointed out in previous posts here and here.
To better understand the point I am trying to make, let’s look at Mitt’s upbringing and an experience I shared with him, both of which will illustrate my point. Mitt was raised doing chores that his dad could have hired people to do, simply because his dad felt there were many important lessons to be learned from manual labor around the home. As he grew, his dad also taught him that when you get married, your primary responsibility is to provide for your family. So, three months after his marriage to Ann in March, 1969, Mitt felt the need to take on a provider role for his young wife and the baby that was-by then on the way.
Mitt was recruited by and accepted the offer of some business developers to take on the franchise of the Eastern Great Lakes region for the selling of a never-before seen item. In the same summer that Neil Armstrong took that “giant leap for mankind,” as he stepped on to the moon, Mitt was launching an innovative hi-tech invention, a microphone that was cordless. In the land of lavish automobile shows and big union bashes, this nifty, “space age” development would surely sell like hot cakes. In addition, it seemed a lot cooler than selling pest control like a lot of our friends did during the summer.
To capitalize on this great opportunity, he recruited, among others, two of us who had been close friends with him in our shared missionary experience in France just months earlier. Mitt set up meetings for us all with marketing directors and purchasing agents of major corporations and we made the sales calls. Although Mitt was in charge, he made calls just like the rest of us.
The scenario that unfolded resembled the all-too-typical scenario of a commission-only arrangement, because, after all, if you’re good (and we were confident we were), why would you want it any other way, right? We worked very hard, with long hours and about as much rejection as we had experienced knocking on doors in France. We also joked together with much laughter and bravado that after we were all rich and famous, we would look back on this summer and have some great motivational talk material.
It turned out that the mics weren’t 100% ready for prime time, and still needed some bugs to be worked out. The end result was that the experience was much less profitable than we had hoped, although, speaking personally, I did save enough money to give the girl I loved a wedding ring. I also met folks in Detroit who were later very helpful in my getting accepted to medical school there. Plus, good friends had shared some great learning (read very humbling!) experiences together. All in all, it proved to be one of the best summers of my young life!
It is also interesting to note that Mitt raised his own kids the same way he was raised, underscoring the value of work. Michael Kranish and Scott Helman wrote in The Real Romney, “Friday nights were reserved for date night for Mitt and Ann, often consisting of dinner and a movie, and Saturdays the family performed chores at home” (p. 102). Even now when the whole family gets together (30 of them!), they each pick chores from a “chore wheel” to make sure the work gets spread evenly among family members.
After our less than eventful summer in 1969 (at least with respect to sales of wireless microphones!), we all moved on and in many different directions. During the decades since, we have often laughed hilariously together about our experiences that summer. All of us have a lot more money now than we did then (some a lot more!) and we are all older and wiser, but we still consider ourselves to be pretty much like we were then. Yes, we still go to the grocery store, Mitt just like the rest of us.