Noblesse Oblige

image of Mitt Romney laughing at a campaign eventRomney anecdotes are the best anecdotes:
While he is yet to campaign in Wisconsin, Mitt Romney worked the state's Republican voters from Dallas, Texas, on Wednesday, holding a "telephone town hall" in which he embraced Gov. Scott Walker's labor policies, endorsed US Rep. Paul Ryan's House budget, and joked about the time his father was head of American Motors and moved car production from Michigan to Wisconsin.

...At the outset of the call, Romney said he has some connections to Wisconsin.

"One of most humorous I think relates to my father. You may remember my father, George Romney, was president of an automobile company called American Motors … They had a factory in Michigan, and they had a factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and another one in Milwaukee, Wisconsin," said Romney. "And as the president of the company he decided to close the factory in Michigan and move all the production to Wisconsin. Now later he decided to run for governor of Michigan and so you can imagine that having closed the factory and moved all the production to Wisconsin was a very sensitive issue to him, for his campaign."

Romney said he recalled a parade in which the school band marching with his father's campaign only knew the Wisconsin fight song, not the Michigan song.

"So every time they would start playing 'On Wisconsin, On Wisconsin,' my dad's political people would jump up and down and try to get them to stop, because they didn't want people in Michigan to be reminded that my dad had moved production to Wisconsin," said Romney, laughing.
Ha ha great story.

That reminds me of another story...

Once upon a time, Iain and I were talking about the British Royal Family, of whom, being a Scotsman, he's no great fan. But he has a deep respect for the modern Windsors, who carry on the admirable aristocratic tradition of serving their country—in the military and in charity—in exchange for the privilege the country affords them.

image of a very young Queen Elizabeth II changing a truck tire in uniform during WWIIPrinces William and Harry had the same chance of serving in Iraq as do any other officers; their uncle, Prince Andrew, served in the Falklands War. When the British government wanted to relocate him to a desk job from the HMS Invincible, one of only two operational aircraft carriers available to the Royal Navy, it was the Queen herself who insisted that Prince Andrew be allowed to remain with his ship. After the war, the Queen and Prince Philip joined other families of the other crew to welcome the vessel home, just a mother and father like any other, glad their son was safe. During WWII, that same mother, then a young woman, relentlessly pestered her father the king to allow her to serve in some capacity, and, eventually, he relented. And she did.

We don't have an aristocracy in America in the same sense as does Britain, but that isn't to say we don't have one at all. Mitt Romney is nothing if not an aristocrat—born to wealth and power, schooled in the best private institutions, rising to prominence less on his merit than his name. And like many American aristocrats, Romney used his privilege, while denying its existence at every turn, to avoid serving his country.

Mitt Romney spent part of his generation's war, Vietnam, in a French palace, exempt from service by virtue of his Mormon missionary work, and, when he came home, he demonstrated in favor of the draft, despite having used his religion to avoid it himself. He also used the privilege of attending university to secure nearly three years of academic deferments.

Mitt Romney diligently avoiding serving his country, until he could do so as a politician, a leader, at which time he shed any pretense of serving the country, instead serving the agenda of other aristocrats.

He is of the New American Aristocracy.

There are still aristocrats in the US who follow the Windsor tradition, men born to privilege, wealth, private schools, and limitless opportunity who repay this debt of inherited fortune by serving their country. Men who graduate from an Ivy League School and enlist in the military. Men who go to war and come home to serve again, as prosecutors and Congressmen and Senators. (Women born to this privilege are expected to perform in different ways.) The last two Democratic presidential candidates before our current president, Al Gore and John Kerry—the men who ran against another great New American Aristocrat, George W. Bush—were men like this.

Men like this don't mask their privilege, nor do they flaunt it. It simply is. But in our typical American way, pretending as we love to do that there is no aristocracy in America and hating the merest whiff of blue blood, we reject patricians and disdain their privilege, particularly when they have never sought to use it to their own advantage.

It's a peculiar tendency, this, to hold in contempt a person who has no personal need to care about the trials and troubles of others and yet does so nonetheless, who recognizes his or her fortune as a fate as random as that of someone who struggles. It's an odd inclination to prefer the charade of Romney's self-made man to the nobility (in both its senses) of a Gore or a Kerry, considering it is the former who would most eagerly see the perpetuation of the divide we revile in the moments we are honest enough to admit it exists in the first place.

Someday, barring a tragedy, Prince William will become a king, and the people of Britain will remember that he served his country, militarily and charitably, and even many of those who would see the monarchy wholly dismantled, and their fortunes turned over to the people of Britain, will respect him for his service. They don't have the option of pretending that their aristocracy is anything but what it is. Some would say that's a burden; I think it's a gift. Our insistence on make-believe has imagined us right into a new Gilded Age.

And so here we are, with a New American Aristocrat likely to be the Republican nominee, who has not served his country in a uniform nor in a role of unconditional altruism, and he resembles nothing so more as the English kings from whose haughty tyranny the Founders were seeking escape.

He tells stories in which the misfortunes of people who do not share his privilege are the punchline, and he doesn't understand why the commoners do not laugh, because he has never lived among them or served beside them.

[Related Reading: Fortunate Sons Don't Like Grieving Mothers.]

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