Elizabeth George
Elizabeth George is the best-selling author of the Lynley series of British crime novels. She has won the Anthony Award, the Agatha Award, and France's Le Grand Prix de Literature Policiere.

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REASON 56: Mitt Romney lacks a sensitivity chip.

A number of years ago, in commenting upon the way in which actor Brad Pitt ended their marriage and then took up with Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston remarked that her former husband “lacked a sensitivity chip.” I’m not entirely sure whether she was referring to the unseemly alacrity with which Mr. Pitt attached himself to Ms. Jolie or the apparent indiscreet delight with which he and his new beloved romped their way into immediate cohabitation and rapid reproduction. In either case, Ms. Aniston’s point seemed to be that sometimes one’s words and behavior give an indication of the inner workings of one’s heart, mind, and soul that bear scrutiny. This is, I think, particularly the case when it comes to the Republican nominee for President of the United States, Mitt Romney.

A few months into the current presidential fray, I happened upon a televised conversation that Mr. Romney was having with some individuals whose identity I am, alas, unable to give you. The topic of this conversation, however, I remember distinctly because it had to do with American-made automobiles. During this conversation, Mr. Romney indicated that he was the proud owner of several American-made automobiles. He put it this way:

“I have a couple of Caddies: one at our home in La Jolla, California, and the other at our home in New Hampshire.”

He went on to reveal that “a few years ago, Anne bought me a Mustang for my birthday.” He did not clue his listeners in as to which garage in which of his homes shelters this particular vehicle.

Now, at this point, unless you are living under a stone, you are probably more than well aware of Mitt Romney’s behind-doors remark about 47 percent of the American public being freeloaders who believe they are “entitled to food, health care, etc.” Indeed, if you live in one of the battleground states, you have probably heard his remark repeated so often on television and radio that you could recite it in your sleep, standing on your head, or in the midst of an armed robbery. But that remark—as unseemly as it was—was made behind closed doors to a group of people who probably applauded at the end of it, nodding vigorously, and seeking similar nods from those seated at the tables in front of which Mr. Romney happened to be standing. So while we can’t excuse him for having that sort of opinion over the very people he seeks to govern, we can at least understand that he assumed he was safe from public scrutiny because he was at an event attended by people holding similar beliefs.

However, his remark about the two houses, the Cadillacs, and the Mustang was made with the full knowledge that television journalists were right there and the cameras were rolling, and because of this, I find the remark extremely and disturbingly telling for what it reveals.

Let me put it this way: You are in the process of planning an event. It will take place at your home. It is intended to be grand and wonderful, and there are many invitees. A week before the event, you find yourself in conversation with a group of people. Three of them are invited and one of them is not. Do you openly discuss how wonderful this upcoming event is going to be, how much fun you are all going to have, how eagerly you anticipate welcoming these individuals into your home? Or do you say nothing about it, wishing to spare the feelings of the person who is not invited? It is my belief that only one of these options reflects sensitivity to another person. And it is not the first.

Is there a problem with Mitt Romney owning two homes, two Cadillacs, and a Mustang (along with however many other vehicles he did not mention during that conversation)? Of course not. Mitt Romney can own a fleet of Ferraris if he would like to do so, as well as homes in every state. He can certainly afford them. But the problem is that it did not occur to Mitt Romney that alluding to his personal affluence in public is a tasteless and insensitive thing to do. And that is where the problem lies, because it suggests an indifference to others, not only to their economic situation but to them as individuals. It is, in my opinion, also unseemly and tasteless. But I hold that opinion because that is how I was raised, and I freely admit that Mitt Romney was raised under quite different circumstances.

Now let me say that I can feel your disbelief. I can almost hear you declaring, “You hold on right there...” But let me ask you this: Regardless of what you think of them personally, can you tell me what kind of car any member of the Kennedy family drives? Can you tell me where their homes are? Can you list how many homes they have? What about Bill and Melinda Gates? What about scores of other wealthy people who go about their lives with the knowledge that they are in a fortunate position held by very few and, as a consequence of their upbringing, know that others do not have the means to live likewise and never will have those means? I am not speaking about Donald Trump, of course. I am not speaking of those who have to flaunt what they possess because it is the only way in which they can shore up a faltering ego. I am speaking of people who go about their lives taking some care in how they deal with others. And I bring this up because it seems to me that in someone we elect as President of the United States, we want a man or woman who has a history of taking care in how they deal with others.

Mitt Romney does not have this history, as far as I have been able to ascertain. Indeed, in a speech that predates his “couple of Cadillacs” remark—a speech I myself watched on television—he said that he does not “care about the desperately poor” because “there is a safety net for them.” Indeed, he seems to imply that, since we will always have “the desperately poor” around us, what point is there to passing legislation that might lift them out of their desperate poverty? But, to me, this is a problem: a man who wishes to be President of the United States while believing that there is actually nothing questionable at all about dismissing a segment of the population.

Mitt Romney is a disturbing man for a number of reasons. But to me the greatest has to do with his inability to remove the silver spoon from his mouth. We have in the past elected presidents of vast personal resources and wealth: Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy come to mind at once. But never in my memory has someone with such a lofty background displayed such appalling ignorance as to the impact of his own words. And when you are President of the United States, rubbing elbows with everyone from world leaders to people devastated by tornadoes—it is helpful to understand that the word reveals the soul. We have seen Mitt Romney’s soul in these last few months. And, frankly, I find that soul wanting.

There is a lot of chuckling about former President Bill Clinton and his “I feel your pain,” response to people in crisis. But Bill Clinton grew up in straitened circumstances with an alcoholic and abusive stepfather, so chances are pretty good that he has always had an astute idea of what it’s like living on the edge, being presented with painful situations and having to deal with them.

There is a lot of derision of President Barack Obama and his professorial approach to dealing with problems. No Drama Obama, he is called. He doesn’t get worked up. He gets work done. But Barack Obama grew up with a single mom or with his grandparents, living in an apartment from which he daily went to school, came home, and studied hard enough to get into some stellar universities. He is married to a woman who grew up sharing an apartment bedroom with her brother while her dad—suffering from a disease that would cripple him—went out and earned a living for his family. So Barack Obama knows what it is to be an ordinary American trying to get by.

Why is this important in a President? Why is it crucial that a President connect at some level with people of every economic level, of every walk of life, of every level of education? Because he or she is the President. Not merely President of the people with incomes over one million dollars a year. Not merely President of the people with Swiss bank accounts and money sheltered in the Cayman Islands. But President of everyone: the rich, the poor, the blue collar and white collar, the university educated, the high school drop-outs.

Personally, I do not want a President who has to be reminded that his remarks might be hurtful, might be insensitive, or might indicate something about him that would better go unknown to the voters. I do not want a President who thinks nothing at all about revealing what his personal wealth buys him and his family. I do not want a President who actually believes that Americans are NOT entitled to food and to health care. I want, instead, a President who has a vision of this country to which I can relate.

Mitt Romney is not that man. He cannot remake himself into a man of sensitivity and breeding. He can pretend to be that man, of course. But the truth will always present itself to us in the end.

Elizabeth George
 Whidbey Island, Washington

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