A Note on the Romney Vote

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But if Greatness be so blind
As to trust in towers of air
Then let it be with goodness lined
That at least the fall be fair.
–Sir Henry Wotton

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?

Nothing more.

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.”

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Interesting post, and I don’t doubt Romney’s dedication and loving care for family and community, but I wonder how he reconciled these stellar morals with his time in the private equity business. By all accounts, this is a business that requires you to take cold and calculating, even cruel decisions that will ruin many lives in order to be successful. Was he the rare exception that managed to retain his humaneness in an inhuman world? Or did he fall pray to the logic whereby “business decisions” are beyond the bounds of morality?

Joseph Schumpeter said that capitalism was "creative destruction". A John Deere plow means fewer farmers are required to do the same amount of plowing and some are thrown off their land. But food becomes cheaper, fewer people starve, and eventually most of the displaced farmers find better paying ways of making a living. Power looms throw weavers out of work but clothes become cheaper and more widely available, and eventually the displaced weavers …

Much of what Bain tried to do was make businesses more efficient, which involved throwing people out of work. But the hope (faith?) was that they would eventually find better paying ways of making a living (eventually Pareto superior), or at least that the average standard of living would go up (Kaldor/Hicks superior).

If any change that throws some people out of work is inhumane and unacceptable and had been stopped, we would still be hunter/gatherers.

The only reason Mitt Romney ran for the Senate seat was because that was the only position from which he might have a chance to exact revenge upon Americans for not electing him President.

Romney has the ability to act according to his preferences rather than political considerations, as a result of the security provided by his wealth, faith, faith community, and family. This may be a good thing, or not. If one is involved in politics, there are large issues in play, and personal preferences may be excessively costly to larger causes. Colleagues and leaders that do not suit one's personal preferences are part of the game in politics. Advancing a political agenda, even one of great moral and practical value, requires many distasteful compromises. If a man does not want to play that game, especially one as otherwise blessed as Mitt Romney, who has limitless alternative options, he should not do it. To pick one issue, pro-life. Trump, for whatever mysterious reason, is strong on this issue. If you care about the issue, and the lives at stake, even if you loathe Trump, then your loathing should be subordinated to the more important consideration of advancing and protecting that cause. If acting in a way that damages Trump makes it more likely that people who support abortion at any time and are uncompromising on the matter will come to power, then acting in a a way that damages Trump is a personal luxury that should not be indulged. There are other examples. Benjamin Disraeli said that he did not have any use for men who supported him when he was right, that was easy. He needed men who supported him when he was wrong. In his wryly cynical way, he simply meant that a party and a cause and a program required disciplining one's preferences, that you can only get part of what you want, some of the time, and you must put up with things you don't like to get anything at all. Not everyone can or will do that. As you noted, Romney has no political principles, which even I think may be too strong But he clearly used a political platform to express personal disdain for the President. That is a misuse of his office and of whatever causes he does care about. If you want to be a Senator, operate as a Senator. He could have voted to acquit — the proper course as a matter of fact and law — and found many other ways to speak his mind about Trump's shortcomings as he, Romney, sees them, while recognizing that it requires much more to remove an elected President than the House Democrats put on the table.. It was a disappointing performance, which accomplished nothing positive, and damaged his ability to act positively in the future on behalf of the votes of Utah and of the country. As Trump would say: Sad!