But if Greatness be so blindAs to trust in towers of airThen let it be with goodness linedThat at least the fall be fair.
Senator Mitt Romney’s vote to impeach President Trump has the chattering classes all in a titter. Romney is being called a man of magnificent character, a profile of courage, a 21st century reincarnation of Sir Thomas Moore. This is all a bit overblown. For Romney, the costs of integrity are small. Mitt Romney is a 72 year old man. He does not face voters again until 2024. He is rich. He has five children who love him dearly, and they have borne him almost thirty grandchildren. Romney could retire tomorrow with full knowledge that his life of service has created friends and followers who are truly devoted to him, regardless of his (or their) political position. His funeral will be full. Had his GOP enemies the power to strip Romney of his senatorial office, they would be doing him a favor. He would then be allowed to spend the twilight of his mortal life as old men ought: in the warm embraces of fellowship and family. What more could Romney ask for?
Romney knows this. Romney has been around politics long enough to know false friends from true; he knows that the accolades and acclaim directed his way today come from poisoned pens. The sweet words of talking heads hold little weight; they are given by the same men and women who undeservedly savaged him in years past, and who will just as viciously attack him when the next confirmation vote for supreme court justice rolls around (this man voted for Brett Kavanaugh, you will remember, with the same clear conscience with which he voted against Donald Trump). Romney’s impeachment vote made permanent enemies, but only flighty, fair-weather friends.
But why should Romney care?
Mitt Romney is not in the friends-making businesses. The Senator already has those. I served as a missionary in the same Massachusetts congregations that Mitt Romney once presided over as bishop and stake president. From members there I heard stories of Romney’s past. Some told tales of incredible generosity on Romney’s part. The gratitude and loyalty these people felt towards their old leader ran deep. These people could give a flying flip for Romney’s politics. He could sign up as a card-carrying member of the Democratic coalition tomorrow and they would still love him. Their love transcends political squabbling.
In recent years the concept of “FU Money” has gained some currency. Mitt Romney’s vote provides us with an alternate conception: the FU Community. Mitt Romney can afford to burn the bridges with his party friends in Washington because those friends in Washington are not the only friends he has got. In times of crisis or need he has other, stronger, less mercenary networks to fall back on. Let CPAC spurn him. Let them say what they will: at the end of the day he still has 30-some adoring grandchildren to dote on, and a community of fellows and followers that only a life of charity could create.
This is the lesson we should be taking away from all this. Romney’s vote was not especially courageous. If anything, given what Romney believes and the privileges he enjoys, it would have been cowardly for him to vote any other way. Mitt Romney’s vote was a product of Mitt Romney’s life. Romney was a man with no political principles but sterling personal ones. He prized people over programs; his conduct was guided by personal kindness, not political platforms. This sort of leadership has its weaknesses, but this week we saw its strengths. This is the neat thing about a huge family and a lifetime of service: it empowers you look at the world, face it pressures, and say, “Nah, this time I will follow my conscience after all.”