A Convention of Bootstrap-Pullers

Kevin Drum noticed something that I also found striking about the Republican convention, that it seemed like every speaker had to relate their hard-luck tale of a rise from poverty. And if they didn't actually have their own such story, then they told their parents' story, or their grandparents' story. Kevin laments that, like many of us, he has to go back a couple of generations in his family to find the inspiring tale of bootstrap-pulling. You'll also notice that most of these stories end with the teller exulting that "only in America" could someone like them, who had a parent or grandparent who was poor, today be standing in front of a crowd of people wearing elephant hats. I've complained before about the ridiculousness of "only in America," but oh boy was it repeated often over the last three days.

We even heard it from Ann Romney, who told us how she and Mitt were so deprived when they were starting out that they lived in a basement apartment and used an ironing board for a table. Sure, they were living off of Mitt's parents' stock, but still. It's like someone saying, "I know what it's like to struggle. My dorm room at Exeter was tiny!"

But honestly, who cares? Of course politicians tell us these stories so we'll believe that they understand our experiences and will be on our side as we work to raise ourselves up. But we have ample evidence that an early history of poverty (let alone that of a parent or grandparent) has pretty much nothing to do with what you'll support and how you'll act when in office. There are Democrats and Republicans who have experienced hardship, or whose parents experienced hardship, and nevertheless came to completely different conclusions about what kind of society we ought to have and what our government ought to do for its citizens. Mitt Romney's convention video included some footage of George Romney angrily telling someone that he knows what it's like to be poor. And this informs his son's policy choices today...how? Not at all, obviously.

Don't get me wrong—politicians from both parties are equally likely to sling this stuff, and I'm sure we'll hear plenty of it at the DNC next week. But if they're going to tell us about their grandfathers' weary hands, at least make the connection to what they want to do now. If there's a real relationship between that (possibly vicarious) experience and your policies, just make it clear. Your grandfather sold turnips from a handcart, and that's why you want to eliminate the capital gains tax? At least explain what one has to do with the other.

All in all, it reminds me of this:

Comments

Somewhat related... Mark Shields (not always my most favorite commentator) had an extraordinarily insightful reaction to displays (such as Romney's) of 'kindness and generosity'. Short version: Nice guys don't necessarily equal nice legislation:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/july-dec12/shieldsbrooks_08-31.html

I would love it if someone would chronicle these "boot strap" speakers to find out what the role of government had in each story. I have no doubt each one was helped in some way by the government-of-the-people they so abhor.

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