Mitt Romney is going around saying that he made all his money himself, aside from a loan from his dad to buy his first house.
Journalists who buy that have short memories. I was living in Massachusetts when Romney first ran for the Senate, and remembered this interview with Ann Romney in the Boston Globe (by Jack Thomas, October 20, 1994; the abstract is here; the full text costs $4.95). Of her student days with Mitt at BYU, Ann said:
“They were not easy years. You have to understand, I was raised in a lovely neighborhood, as was Mitt, and at BYU, we moved into a $62-a-month basement apartment with a cement floor and lived there two years as students with no income.
“It was tiny. And I didn’t have money to carpet the floor. But you can get remnants, samples, so I glued them together, all different colors. It looked awful, but it was carpeting.
“We were happy, studying hard. Neither one of us had a job, 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. When he took over American Motors, the stock was worth nothing. But he invested Mitt’s birthday money year to year — it wasn’t much, a few thousand, but he put it into American Motors because he believed in himself. Five years later, stock that had been $6 a share was $96 and Mitt cashed it so we could live and pay for education.
“Mitt and I walked to class together, shared housekeeping, had a lot of pasta and tuna fish and learned hard lessons.
“We had our first child in that tiny apartment. We couldn’t afford a desk, so we used a door propped on sawhorses in our bedroom. It was a big door, so we could study on it together. And we bought a portable crib, took the legs off and put it on the desk while we studied. I had a baby sitter during class time, but otherwise, I’d hold my son on my lap while I studied.
“The funny thing is that I never expected help. My father had become wealthy through hard work, as did Mitt’s father, but I never expected our parents to take care of us. They’d visit, laugh and say, `We can’t believe you guys are living like this.’ They’d take us out to dinner, have a good time, then leave.
“We stayed till Mitt graduated in 1971, and when he was accepted at Harvard Law, we came east. He was also accepted at Harvard Business School as part of a joint program that admits 25 a year, so he was getting degrees from Harvard Law and Business schools at the same time.
“Remember, we’d been paying $62 a month rent, but here, rents were $400, and for a dump. This is when we took the now-famous loan that Mitt talks about from his father and bought a $42,000 home in Belmont, and you know? The mortgage payment was less than rent. Mitt saw that the Boston market was behind Chicago, LA and New York. We stayed there seven years and sold it for $90,000, so we not only stayed for free, we made money. As I said, Mitt’s very bright.
“Another son came along 18 months later, although we waited four years to have the third, because Mitt was still in school and we had no income except the stock we were chipping away at. We were living on the edge, not entertaining. No, I did not work. Mitt thought it was important for me to stay home with the children, and I was delighted.
“Right after Mitt graduated in 1975, we had our third boy and it was about the time Mitt’s first paycheck came along. So, we were married a long time before we had any income, about five years as struggling students. …
“Now, every once in a while, we say if things get rough, we can go back to a $62-a-month apartment and be happy. All we need is each other and a little corner and we’ll be fine.”
Ann was widely mocked for this at the time. I don’t dissent from the mockery. Her idea of her and Mitt facing “not easy years,” having “no income,” “living on the edge” as “struggling students,” was that the couple had had to face college with only sale of stockÂ to sustain them. By Ann’s own account, the stock amounted to “a few thousand” dollars when bought, but it had gone up by a factor of sixteen. So let’s conservatively say that they got through five years as studentsâ€”neither one of them workingâ€”only by “chipping away at” assets of $60,000 in 1969 dollars (about $377,000 today).
Look. I don’t begrudge Romney’s having had his college tuition and living expenses paid for with family money. Mine were too. My background, though not as fancy as Mitt or Ann Romney’s, was privileged enough. But the guy should just come out and admit it: “I was a child of privilege and have my parents’ wealth to thank for my education. That said,Â I worked very very hard in business, and the vast majority of my fortune I earned myself.”
But there is of course a reason he can’t say that: such a statement is customarily followed by an expression of gratitude and a willingness to give something back to society. And gratitude and a willingness to give something back are precisely what Romney lacksâ€”in common with the party he’s aspiring to represent.