Conservatives this week were quick to mock the Obama campaign's "The Life of Julia," an online slideshow highlighting how government investments in education, health care, small business and retirement security help enable the children of working families to climb the ladder of social mobility. Republican critics dismissed that common path to the middle class as the "condescension" of "cradle-to-grave, government-supported existence" supposedly championed by Democrats.
It is only fitting, then, that the Romney campaign offers its alternative vision. So here is "The Life of Mitt," a tale of a winner-take-all America in which government exists to ensure a privileged few stay that way.
Age Minus 9 Months: The son of American Motors magnate and Michigan Governor George Romney, Mitt fondly recalls being with his father for Detroit's Golden Jubilee. That celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the American automobile occurred on June 1, 1946, "fully nine months before Romney was born." Years later, Mitt would similarly "remember" seeing his dad march with Martin Luther King, Jr.
Age 8: Young Mitt Romney is living his American Dream; that is, being born to a father who achieved his own. "Only in America could a man like my dad become governor of the state in which he once sold paint from the trunk of his car." In Michigan, Mitt learned to love cars and trees which were the right height. He also begins to soak up valuable life lessons from his dad, like "Mitt, never get involved in politics if you have to win election to pay a mortgage." As for the millions of Americans unable to pay theirs, Mitt later concluded:
"Don't try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom, allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up and let it turn around and come back up."
Despite his filial devotion, Mitt forgets his father's warning that "rugged individualism" is "nothing but a political banner to cover up greed."
Age 12: After attending a public elementary school, young Mitt is sent to the prestigious Cranbrook School in elegant Bloomfield Hills. This experience leads him to declare he's just "a guy from Detroit," one who happens to support school vouchers and tax breaks for home schooling, while slashing funds for public schools.
While Mitt Romney would certainly never had to worry about "getting a pink slip," he stills gets a chuckle thinking about those who did when his father moved AMC jobs from Michigan to Wisconsin. It's no wonder he chides his former home town in 2008, declaring, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."
Age 16: In 1963, Mitt confronts personal tragedy, as "dear, close family relative" Ann Keenan dies as a result of an illegal abortion. As he later explained during a 1994 Senate debate with Ted Kennedy, it was that searing experience which made him a pro-choice Mormon:
"It is since that time that my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter. And you will not see me wavering on that."
Age 19: In 1966, Stanford student Mitt Romney takes part in his only college protest, one in favor of the Vietnam War. But thanks to the generous 4-D exemption from military service, Mitt like many Mormon young men of his age was able to secure multiple deferments in order to perform his church mission. During that two and half year period when other American men were fighting in the rice fields of Vietnam, Romney faced hardships in the vineyards of France. These apparently included pooping in a bucket during his of roughing it in a palatial church mansion in Paris. As he revealed in a 1994 interview with the Boston Herald, Romney was not exactly racked by guilt as the war raged in Southeast Asia:
"Romney, however, acknowledged he did not have any desire to serve in the military during his college and missionary days, especially after he married and became a father," the newspaper wrote. "'I was not planning on signing up for the military,' he said. It was not my desire to go off and serve in Vietnam, but nor did I take any actions to remove myself from the pool of young men who were eligible for the draft. If drafted, I would have been happy to serve, and if I didn't get drafted I was happy to be with my wife and new child.'"
Thirteen years later, candidate Mitt Romney explained he passed on that tradition to his five boys:
"My sons are all adults and they've made decisions about their careers and they've chosen not to serve in the military and active duty and I respect their decision in that regard. One of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping me get elected because they think I'd be a great president."
Age 24: In 1971, Ann and Mitt Romney head to Cambridge, Massachusetts. There, Mitt starts a "terrific" four year program to get his JD and MBA at Harvard Business School, completing both degrees 37 years before accusing Barack Obama of spending too much time in the Harvard faculty lounge. Even with small children and Mitt in school, Ann avoided the "dignity of work" because "Mitt had enough of an investment from stock that we could sell off a little at a time. The stock came from Mitt's father."
That history might explain why Romney offered this advice in March to college students struggling to pay for his education:
"If you can't afford it, scholarships are available, shop around for loans, make sure you go to a place that's reasonably priced, and if you can, think about serving the country 'cause that's a way to get all that education for free."
Pell grants, schmell grants.
Age 29: Mitt starts his career at Boston Consulting Group. There, he befriends a colleague named Benjamin Netanyahu. Over the years, the fast friends will come to agree on just about everything, including cracking down on public sector unions and launching pre-emptive strikes on Iran.
Age 30: In 1977, Romney is hired away by Bain and Company. But in 1984, he found Bain Capital, the private equity firm where Romney discovered that "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." Thanks to his beloved process of "creative destruction," Mitt got very rich as investments in companies like Staples and Sports Authority paid off handsomely. Just not necessarily for the employees at the firms Bain often creatively destroyed. As the Los Angeles Times documented, workers' pain was Mitt's gain:
Bain's top 10 dollar investments under Romney -- averaging $53 million -- spanned a number of sectors, including healthcare, entertainment and manufacturing. The firm's largest investment was its 1999 buyout of Domino's Pizza, into which Bain put $188.8 million, eventually reaping a fivefold return.
Four of the 10 companies Bain acquired declared bankruptcy within a few years, shedding thousands of jobs. The prospectus shows that Bain investors profited in eight of the 10 deals, including three of the four that ended in bankruptcy.
Under Romney's successful leadership, the Times concluded, "Bain Capital often maximized profits in part by firing workers." As Marc B. Walpow, a former managing partner at Bain who worked closely with Romney for nine years put it, "I never thought of what I do for a living as job creation. The primary goal of private equity is to create wealth for your investors."
Age 47: Mitt Romney follows his father's path from business to politics by taking on Ted Kennedy in the 1994 Massachusetts Senate race. Mitt loses, despite his pro-choice and pro-gay rights views, as well as his declaration that:
"I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush; I'm not trying to return to Reagan-Bush."
Age 52: Now a multi-millionaire, Mitt leaves Bain Capital in 1999. But thanks to a sweetheart deal from his old employer, he continues to earn millions annually from the firm's investment portfolio. And thanks to even an even sweeter deal from Uncle Sam, the notorious carried interest exemption lets the man who is "also unemployed" pay only 15 (and not 35) percent on the $42 million he pocketed over two years. Just as important, a Mitt-friendly IRS lets Romney set up a $100 million trust fund for his five sons - tax free.
Under President Romney, the federal government will come to aid of the struggling rich, like Mitt Romney. His own tax proposals would save the $250 million man an estimated $4 million a year. His friends who own NASCAR and NFL teams would reap a massive windfall, courtesy of the U.S. Treasury. (As for the people in polyester and plastic rain ponchos, not so much.) And by eliminating the estate tax, Romney's heir could pocket over $80 million courtesy of Uncle Sam.
Age 55: Running for Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt avoids a residency crisis by paying $54,000 in property taxes on the Utah resort home he had claimed as his primary residence. He also avoids the ire of liberal Bay State voters by proclaiming:
"I think people recognize that I'm not a partisan Republican; that I'm someone who is moderate; and that my views are progressive."
"I think women also recognize that they want someone who is going to manage the state well. I think they may be more nervous about him on social issues. They shouldn't be, because he's going to be just fine. But the perception is that he won't be. That's an incorrect perception."
To prove it, Mitt tells Planned Parenthood he supports Roe V. Wade, the morning after pill and funding for abortion services for low income women. A decade later, he announces he wants to end the federal Title X law providing health care services to low-income women and backs personhood amendments. It's no wonder his adviser Michael Murphy reveals in 2005 that Romney's "been a pro-life Mormon faking it as a pro-choice friendly."
Age 59: With Senator Ted Kennedy by his side, Governor Romney signs the popular Massachusetts health care reform law in 2006. That bill, which Mitt repeatedly calls a "model" for the country, reduces the uninsured rate to a national low of two percent, improves residents' health and slows the growth of insurance premiums. As Jonathan Gruber, who helped design both Romneycare and Obamacare, put it, "it's the same f**king bill."
Just a few years later, Romney says of the Affordable Care Act that as President he would "kill it dead." As it turns out, by slashing the federal Medicaid funding that made his signature achievement possible, Mitt would snuff out Romneycare as well.
Age 61: In his first presidential run, Mitt reverses course on abortion rights, immigration, and just about everything else. (He also announces his opposition to Barack Obama's call for strikes against Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan, a move five years later he claimed "other presidents and candidates like myself" would have ordered.)
Thanks to lax campaign laws that tilt the playing field in favor of the rich, Mitt is able to spend $45 million of his own money in his losing effort. Hoping to become John McCain's running mate, he parts with the loss of a fifth of his net worth and over two decades of tax returns. As Brian Williams pointed out during a January 2012 debate, "You said during the McCain vetting process you turned over 23 years which you had at the ready because, to quote you, you`re something of a packrat." Now, the American people only get two because, as Mitt helpfully explained earlier this year:
"I don't put out which tooth paste I use either. It's not that I have something to hide."
Age 63: Mitt's not-so-blind trust sheds its holdings in Swiss accounts just in time for his next presidential campaign. Not so for his cash stored in the Cayman Islands, still safely beyond the reach of the IRS.
Age 65: For his 65th birthday, Mitt announces he won't be taking Social Security or Medicare payments. He's just setting an example for all Americans, since he wants to raise the retirement age to 67. He also wants to convert Medicare into an under-funded voucher scheme that would dramatically shift health care costs onto seniors. For safety sake, Romney avoids mentioning his past support of President Bush's plan to privatize Social Security, which he used to call "a good idea."
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)