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We built it together: a hand up for Mitt Romney’s family, Paul Ryan’s family, and mine

MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
I wish I could show Mitt Romney what I’ve seen in Minneapolis, because if I could, he would know how deeply, deeply wrong he is.

At first I didn’t think we needed another person chiming in on Mitt Romney’s latest stumble. His remarkably clueless comments dissing 47 percent of the country he wants to lead speak for themselves.

But when I thought more about this — and then watched a different, shocking video — I felt I needed to connect these offensive remarks to what I see in Minneapolis, and my own life.

The tape that really blew my mind is actually 50 years old. In it, Lenore Romney, Mitt’s mom, talks about her husband, George, who in 1962 was running for governor of Michigan for the first time. As she talked with rightful pride about George’s successful personal story, she casually disclosed that the Romney family was on public assistance when George first came to this country. (Watch her comments between 0:45–1:15.)

The story is that George Romney, Mitt’s dad, was born in Mexico while his parents were living there to escape religious persecution. When the Mexican Revolution broke out, George and his family moved back to the U.S. — where George’s self-made story began with what his son would call a government handout.

But it wasn’t a handout — it was a hand up, and George Romney used that hand up the ladder to build a very successful business career. He built it — but we helped.

Story repeated literally every day

Now let’s bring this story back to Minneapolis, where we see George Romney’s story repeated literally every day. Immigrants who escape war come to Minneapolis from places like Somalia, Liberia, Burma and Syria. Like Romney’s father, a lot of people come from Mexico, and other parts of Latin America, too.  Some go on public assistance. Some live in public housing. But when I listen to Mitt Romney, I realize that he thinks the story ends there, with generations of dependence, with people assuming the government owes them and doing nothing to help themselves.

I wish I could show him what I’ve seen in Minneapolis, because if I could, he would know how deeply, deeply wrong he is. I have met hundreds of young people doing just what George Romney did: using a hand up in tough times to become part of the American Dream. I know so many young people and young immigrants who are thriving in school, getting STEP-UP jobs, getting into college, starting their careers and beginning to pay back the country that gave them a fair shot.

Some of them have even worked in my office: Hashim Yonis may well be mayor someday, or the great leader who finally brings peace to Somalia. Alex Glaze beat incredible odds that few of us can imagine beating and is excelling at Stanford University. Myriam Demello, an amazingly talented STEP-UP intern in my office this past summer, just started at Hamline University and I predict will be on the Supreme Court someday. And all of them are the key to Minneapolis’ future and America’s future.

For the past seven years, I have held career forums every year in every public Minneapolis high school. I ask 9th graders to make firm plans to attend college and to imagine that their futures are limitless. I have heard thousands of kids talk about their futures — and never once in all that time have I heard a single young person from any background talk the way that Mitt Romney seems to believe they think. He may not think they’re going to be as successful as George Romney was, but don’t bet on it.

Romney’s — and Ryan’s — obligation

Mitt Romney has every reason to be tremendously proud of all that his father accomplished. But in his position, he has an obligation to understand how he got where he is, and to give others the same chance.  So does Paul Ryan.

I raise Ryan because of a part of his biography that I also just learned shows again why Romney’s comments — and the politics that Romney and Ryan practice — are so wrong. When Paul Ryan’s father died when Paul was 16, his widowed mother went back to college herself and used her Social Security survivor benefits to put Paul through college.

That rang very true to me, because that is exactly the same situation that my mother found herself in when my father died, when I was 10.

My father ran a corner drugstore where he worked night and day, seven days a week, until he died of a stroke. He literally worked himself to death. My mother took over running the store, then got another job, while she put herself and her three kids through college — with the help of the Social Security survivor benefits that she also received.

My mother was not the “victim” that Romney described, and the very last thing my parents ever would have said is that the government owed them anything. But when my family faced a crisis, there was a hand up from one of those “government programs” that Romney and Ryan now love to hate.

‘Entitlements’ got us to college

Paul Ryan and I both got to go to college precisely because of the “entitlements” that my hardworking parents never expected they were entitled to.

Politicians make mistakes. People misspeak in public. God knows I have proven both. A lot.

But this latest Romney screed is more than that. It is a window into the soul of a man who wants to lead this entire country, a man who strangely sounds more comfortable talking on that tape than almost any other time I’ve heard him in this campaign.

This sure seems to be a guy saying what he truly believes. Fair enough. We’re all entitled to our opinions.

But we aren’t entitled to rewrite our own family histories and pretend that we build this alone. Because we built it together.

R.T. Rybak is the mayor of Minneapolis. This commentary originally appeared at http://rtrybak.tumblr.com.

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Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/21/2012 - 06:47 am.

    The difference in earning power between a man living in Bangladesh and the very same man living in Palo Alto is testament to the importance of the economic institutions. They, and the incentives they create, are very nearly everything that matters to wealth creation.

    And yet within that system, it is nonetheless the case that the people who respond to the incentives, generate ideas, start businesses, and become rich are responsible for their own success. They were the ones who took the action. Now perhaps, in a well designed system, the decision by one man not to follow the incentives simply means that another will step in, seamlessly ensuring that the growth of prosperity continues. Still, whichever person builds that, built that, often through hard work, determination, and considerable acceptance of risk.

    There is also the problem, of course, that many of those who have become rich owe their wealth more to rent-seeking or rule-gaming than innovation and gumption. For many, the incentives and outcomes among financial professionals mean that their incomes are unproductively earned if not entirely illegitimate.

    The American system needs successful business people and successful business people need the American system. The relationship is symbiotic. But we now seem to find ourselves in an odd situation in which the equilibrium has been disturbed, and now see the other as increasingly parasitic.

    How to raise the ratio of David Packards to Gordon Geckkos seems to be the real question.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 09/21/2012 - 07:08 am.

    The Republican party has evolved into a profoundly pessimistic party. It sneers at “hope and change”. It longs for a return to “better days”, although none of them can really pinpoint where that “better time” was in history, The is a conscious ignoring of the fact that the America of the post-WW2 was significantly different than before the war in that wide-spread economic gains were made by workers (and by corporations). The current attention to “job creators” ignores the fact that the largest set of “job creators” are the general population when they can afford the items that they make–that means secure jobs with good wages.

    The pessimism of the Republican party has moved further into, “I want mine, I’ll get mine, the hell with you”. This is an attitude that there will not be enough for everyone, so each person should grab what they can. Any help that another person gets is a debit against your account. It is bread taken from your mouth. Economic Darwinism and Ayn Rand are the heroes of the moment.

    However, America has always been about “hope and change”. It could not be otherwise. The question is, what future is there for a profoundly pessimistic party like the Republicans?

  3. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 09/21/2012 - 08:22 am.

    Think of Rybak’s words as a giant Post-It

    …to tack on Romney’s forehead; a reminder for Romney and those who support the idea of citizens as “givers and takers” or “winners and losers” or “deserving and undeserving”; or view most of the people some of the time as merely part of a percentile on a graph; or as people-commodities clinging desperately, still embracing the middle class…or just faces in the crowd?

    There is a landfill of opportunity still out there maybe, if students and the jobless and the homeless and the bankrupt can dig through the trash and still discover their gold ring; in spite of…who knows?

  4. Submitted by jody rooney on 09/21/2012 - 09:23 am.

    All I can say is I wish I lived in Minneapolis

    Do you think they have 20 acres and allow horses?

    Excellent article.

  5. Submitted by Mike Meyers on 09/21/2012 - 10:44 am.

    Great message from an ironic messenger…

    The Democrats should find a better spokesman to play the part of champion of the little guy. Here we have a mayor who sidestepped the city charter, defied the will of the people, in the interest of making the owner of the Vikings $200 million richer. That’s how much Forbes estimates the team value has soared thanks to city and state stadium handouts.

    When you spend more than a year carrying water for the “haves” and “have-mores” — where a “hand up” went to one of America’s least needy — portraying yourself as a friend of the rest of us qualifies as wretched hypocrisy.

    Tax dollars diverted to Wilf will mean money not available for people who actually need government help. In 10 or 15 years, when Rybak more honestly makes his living as an employee of Corporate America, the bill will come due for “improvements” to the Vikings stadium. In St. Louis, the Rams demand $700 million in “improvements” to their 15-year-old stadium.

    Thus, Rybak professes to care for the average Joe while his actions have been about serving the “entitled” rich. That’s a brand of empathy we can do without.

    • Submitted by Rich Crose on 09/21/2012 - 12:46 pm.

      Difficult Job

      The Stadium issue is a good example of the difficult job of a politician. On the one hand, you have to give the rich guys a bunch of money –enormously unpopular. But what did Minneapolis get in return? A healthy downtown where suburban elites come and spend oodles of money to share the beer and brat Eucharist on Sunday. A renegotiated bonding plan to save the other venues in the city money. A more secure future for the entire community. How do you sell that?

      I wasn’t for a handout to the Vikings but ask Norm Coleman what a major league team means to the city. They’re going to miss the Saints this year.

      • Submitted by Mike Meyers on 09/21/2012 - 01:52 pm.

        Eight games do not make a “healthy downtown”…

        Economists have shown, in study after study, that pro sports stadiums offer either no return or a negative return to cities that build them.

        What do we give up to get nothing? Hundreds of millions that could have been spent on productive investments with a strong rate of return.

        Stadiums are “income redistribution.” Simple as that. That conclusion is neither controversial nor new among economists who’ve studied stadium deals.

        “There’s no intrinsic economic benefit from building a sports facility,” said Andrew Zimbalist, a leading sports economist who teaches at Smith College. New York Times, Jan. 16, 2005.

        “…sports economist Brad Humphreys, a professor of recreation, sport and tourism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and colleague Dennis Coates, a professor of economics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, haven’t uncovered a single instance in which the presence of a professional sports team has been linked to a boost in the local economy.

        “Our conclusion, and that of nearly all academic economists studying this issue, is that professional sports generally have little, if any, positive effect on a city’s economy,” Humphreys and Coates wrote in a report issued last month by the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. November, 2004

        “The evidence presented here is that the presence of a new or renovated stadium has an uncertain impact on the levels of personal income and possibly a negative impact on local development relative to the region. These results should serve as a caution to those who assume or assert a large positive stadium impact.” Robert Baade, Richard Dye. The Impact of Stadium and Professional Sports on Metropolitan Area Development. Article first published online: July 3, 2006

        And the list goes on…

        • Submitted by JP Winker on 09/21/2012 - 03:28 pm.

          Stadiums and economic data

          Your assumption that economic data alone captures the value of retaining a sports franchise is flawed. A single events, like hosting playoff games (or the Super Bowl, Final Four, Rolling Stones concert, etc.) and other variable revenues are generally not factored in. These can turn a profit once fixed costs are covered. This is often the case with convention centers too.

          Nor, as they taught us in grad school, does financial data fully cover the benefits of having a tier 1 sports franchise in a city. Polls may differ on majority/minority opinions on the value of the Vikings stadium, but there’s a very large proportion of residents (fans, business people, and ordinary citizens) who see real value in retaining the Vikings. Not just the team’s owners.

          • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 09/21/2012 - 05:42 pm.

            The trouble with your “very large proportion” is…

            …these people don’t want to pay for their own entertainment, they want ALL of us to pay so they can have…whatever thrill it is they get out of seeing grown men bang their heads against each other. Laughably, the lobbyists sold it in the legislature as a “cultural asset” when their claims of economic benefit were shown clearly to be hollow.

            As I recall, the last estimate I saw of the public subsidy was about $75 per ticket for 30 years of tickets. Such a deal for the ticket-buying part of your “very large proportion” !!

            And by the way, what exactly is the size of this “very large proportion”, anyway ??

            Also: if there were a compelling proportion in favor of it, why did this mayor go to such lengths to snake his way around a referendum ?? And why did he play hide-and-seek with the burden to be borne by the public by making sure his CFO didn’t reveal very substantial parts of the costs until shortly before the legislature took it up ??

            Most of those expensive boxes go to corporate interests who use it as a sales tool or relationship-building device. They, more than anyone, want the public to pay for their benefit; and they’ve got the money to buy influence in the legislature to see that we DO pay. But we’ve got to give this mayor credit – they couldn’t have done it without him.

          • Submitted by Mike Meyers on 09/21/2012 - 05:58 pm.

            Flapdoodle…

            Oh, please.

            Even Super Bowl games are losers because they “crowd out” reservations from would-be visitors who end up landing elsewhere. The American Economic Association annual convention gave up on New Orleans years ago and took its demand for a couple of thousand rooms elsewhere. Frequent Super Bowl simply made visiting New Orleans too costly and difficult.

            Witness the empty hotel rooms, restaurants and tourist sites during the London Olympics. Another loser, where cities bid up their “contribution” to the point where a positive economic return is impossible.

            As for those oft-mentioned “intangibles,” no reason to debate the value to the public in the abstract. Let’s have a vote.

            What, no vote?

            Can’t think why.

  6. Submitted by richard bonde on 09/21/2012 - 11:38 am.

    George Romney

    This is beside the point of the article, but how could George Romney run for president if he was born in Mexico?

  7. Submitted by myles spicer on 09/21/2012 - 11:50 am.

    Similar story

    I was 26 when my dad died at the age of 50; but I had three younger brothers (one in colllege, one in high school, and one still in elementary school). While my dad had some insurance, it was the SS Survivor benefit that allowed my mother to retain her home, and assist my young sibilings with their education. One got a PhD in mathematics and has had a storied academic career; the other is a judge in Minnesota. Social Security did exactly what it was intended to do — provide a safety net for those in need through no fault of their own. What is often lost in all this is the fact the both SS and Medicare are NOT “entitlements” which is a poor choice of description– they are true INSURANCE programs. While it is true that changing demographics require continuous adjustments to the actuarily components, this has been done, can be done, and will be done — but not by tossing them out on the altar of privitization.

    One only has to go back to the days before we had both of these insurance programs to understand the enormous value they have had for our American society.

  8. Submitted by Dianne Arnold on 09/22/2012 - 11:39 am.

    The Romneys in Mexico

    Saying that George Romney’s parents were living in Mexico “to escape religious persecution” is disingenuous at best. They moved to Mexico because Romney’s father didn’t want to obey the new law of the land when polygamy was outlawed in the United States. They moved to avoid complying with US law. The Mormon church changed their stance on the issue. Religious persecution – I think not.

    • Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/22/2012 - 04:20 pm.

      //The Mormon colonies in Mexico are settlements located near the Sierra Madre mountains in northern Mexico which were established by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints beginning in 1885. Many of the original colonists came to Mexico due to federal attempts to curb and prosecute polygamy in the United States.//

      //In 1882, the Edmunds Act was passed by the United States Congress. This was part of the by then 20 year struggle by the US government to curb the LDS practice of plural marriage in Utah Territory and other locations in the American West. Among other things, the law felonized the practice of polygamy and disenfranchised polygamists. As a result, over a thousand Latter-day Saint men and women were eventually fined and jailed. Some were sent as far away as Michigan to fulfill their terms.

      Members of the Pratt-Romney family have roots in these colonies, including both Marion G. Romney and George W. Romney having been born there.//

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_colonies_in_Mexico

      • Submitted by Steve Rose on 09/24/2012 - 09:18 am.

        Plural Marriage May Make a Comeback

        VOTE NO; Don’t Limit the Right to Marry.

        The same arguments that apply to same gender marriage also apply to plural marriage. If between consenting adults, who are we to judge the form of marriage that people choose to form? Such judgement in our current culture will earn you a “shame on you”.

  9. Submitted by mark wallek on 09/23/2012 - 10:09 am.

    Aspirations to higher office.

    I’ve always disliked a pol who is clearly using one office as a stepping stone to better things. Career pols are destined only for one of two things: a cushy government position with great bennies and a pension, or a lucrative job in private industry with great bennies and a sweet pension.

  10. Submitted by Kim Piro on 09/24/2012 - 04:23 pm.

    Interesting perspective

    Interesting article and perspective.  Romney does not say in the (Carter grandson/MJ) video that he thinks 47% of Obama voters are victims, he says that some of Obama’s base voters — see themselves — as victims.  An important distinction, the Obama camp and others seemed to spin. Conservatives strongly believe in giving all Americans (and others including Egyptians, Libyans, etc.) a hand up. Everyone at some time or another has needed assistance and tap from family, church, charities, community or a government resource. It’s part of the American DNA.  It’s when it becomes a lifestyle choice, when you could otherwise find alternatives to change your economic situation, that there’s a disparity between the parties.  Many Democrats and Independents agree with this too.  Look at Clinton’s PRWORA of 1996 — clearly there was consensus to pass this. Social Security survivor benefits are different — people have paid into this plan to receive benefits so it’s not an entitlement, at least not what Conservatives are talking about.

    The parallels with Ryan and Rybak are very unfortunate and sad.  I didn’t know R.T. lost his father so young.  It is interesting that Rybak’s mother was able to put he and his siblings through an affluent private high school prep school like Breck on social security benefits (another parallel with Barack who attended private prep school Punahou School and Michelle to Chicago’s Whitney Young prep school) while Paul Ryan went to Craig Public High. Rybak’s alma mater Boston College is also an expensive prestigious, private college.  I’m surprised he didn’t attend the U of M given his social and public education views and what he points to as financial struggles — maybe he received a scholarship. Regardless, he’s done well for himself and I respect that though I mostly disagree with article’s premise and conclusion or his political views. His success and others, whether political, educational, familial or financial (Romney, Dayton Sr.) should always be lauded.

    Now I’ll go back to (as Obama inelegantly put it) clinging to my guns and religion while struggling to keep the “business I didn’t build” afloat in these supremely difficult anti-business economic conditions.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 09/26/2012 - 10:44 am.

      What’s good for the goose is good for the gander?

      You criticized the lack of nuance in reactions to Romney’s “47%” comment. How about extending that same recognition of nuance to Obama’s “you didn’t build it” comment?

      Obama was NOT saying that business owners deserved no credit for their accomplishments. Instead, his point was that we should never forget that everyone’s successes are better enabled by an ongoing strong and vibrant infrastructure which is maintained by and for the common good.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/26/2012 - 03:39 pm.

      Wow!

      That was one of the most elegantly stated, and most thorough refutations of boiler-plate leftist propaganda I’ve ever seen here on MinnPost. Well Done Kim!

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