When it comes to being a rich guy, Mitt Romney should own it
What do women want? The conventional biological wisdom is that men select mates for fertility, while women select for status — thus the commonness of younger women’s pairing with well-established older men but the rarity of the converse. The Demi Moore–Ashton Kutcher model is an exception — the only 40-year-old woman Jack Nicholson has ever seen naked is Kathy Bates in that horrific hot-tub scene. Age is cruel to women, and subordination is cruel to men. Ellen Kullman is a very pretty woman, but at 56 years of age she probably would not turn a lot of heads in a college bar, and the fact that she is the chairman and CEO of Dupont isn’t going to change that.
It’s a good thing Mitt Romney doesn’t hang out in college bars.
You want off-the-charts status? Check out the curriculum vitae of one Willard M. Romney: $200 million in the bank (and a hell of a lot more if he didn’t give so much away), apex alpha executive, CEO, chairman of the board, governor, bishop, boss of everything he’s ever touched. Son of the same, father of more. It is a curious scientific fact (explained in evolutionary biology by the Trivers-Willard hypothesis — Willard, notice) that high-status animals tend to have more male offspring than female offspring, which holds true across many species, from red deer to mink to Homo sap. The offspring of rich families are statistically biased in favor of sons — the children of the general population are 51 percent male and 49 percent female, but the children of the Forbes billionaire list are 60 percent male. Have a gander at that Romney family picture: five sons, zero daughters. Romney has 18 grandchildren, and they exceed a 2:1 ratio of grandsons to granddaughters (13:5). When they go to church at their summer-vacation home, the Romney clan makes up a third of the congregation. He is basically a tribal chieftain.
Professor Obama? Two daughters. May as well give the guy a cardigan. And fallopian tubes.
From an evolutionary point of view, Mitt Romney should get 100 percent of the female vote. All of it. He should get Michelle Obama’s vote. You can insert your own Mormon polygamy joke here, but the ladies do tend to flock to successful executives and entrepreneurs. Saleh al-Rajhi, billionaire banker, left behind 61 children when he cashed out last year. We don’t do harems here, of course, but Romney is exactly the kind of guy who in another time and place would have the option of maintaining one. He’s a boss. Given that we are no longer roaming the veldt for the most part, money is a reasonable stand-in for social status. Romney’s net worth is more than that of the last eight U.S. presidents combined. He set up a trust for his grandkids and kicked in about seven times Barack Obama’s net worth, which at $11.8 million is not inconsiderable but probably less than Romney’s tax bill in a good year. If he hadn’t given away so much money to his church, charities, and grandkids, Mitt Romney would have more money than Jay-Z.
It is time for Mitt Romney to get in touch with his inner rich guy.
Some Occupy Wall Street types, believing it to be the height of wit, have begun to spell Romney’s name “Rmoney.” But Romney can do better than that — put it in all caps: R-MONEY. Jay-Z can keep his puny little lowercase letters and the Maybach: R-MONEY doesn’t own a flashy car with rims, R-MONEY does billion-dollar deals with Keystone Automotive and Delphi. You want to make it rain? R-MONEY is going to make it storm, like biblical. Rappers boast about their fat stacks: R-MONEY’s fat stacks live in a beachfront house of their own in the Hamptons, and the bricks in that house are made from tightly bound hundred-dollar bills. You have a ton of money? R-MONEY has 200 metric tons of money if he decides to keep it in cash.
Romney is forever saying — and God bless him for this — that we shouldn’t punish success, that we shouldn’t discourage risk-taking and entrepreneurship, and that we shouldn’t resent wealth. He celebrates the successful businessman and the free market that makes such success possible. And then he goes around acting like somebody who gives a fig about the price of a gallon of gas as anything other than a statistical abstraction on some spreadsheet somewhere or a political opportunity. This isn’t just cheap campaign theater: In 2010, Romney and his wife were flying back from the Vancouver winter Olympics when a guy flipped out on the plane and took a swing at him. Romney had reminded the guy to return his seat to the full upright and locked position before take-off — that’s our Mitt, no? Romney laughed the episode off and didn’t press charges, but the real news is this: Romney was flying commercial. In fact, he was sitting in the 15th row of an Embraer ERJ-190, which on Canadian Air means he was flying coach. Economy class! No normal person flies economy class if he can afford not to — and Romney can afford his own airliner. Fly like a G6? Romney could buy his-and-hers Gulfstreams and still have more money left over than Gwyneth Paltrow and the McCains combined. And John McCain famously has more houses than he can count.
I suppose he’s practicing bourgeois virtues and whatnot, and we conservatives probably should cheer that. Hurrah. Now Romney should quit pretending that he’s an ordinary schmo with ordinary schmo problems and start living a little larger. He should not be ashamed of being loaded; instead, he should have some fun with it. He will discover something that the Obama campaign has not quite figured out yet: Americans do not hate rich people. Americans love rich people. Americans will sit on their couches and watch billionaire Donald Trump fire people on television — for fun. Nobody hates Jay Leno for owning seven Aston Martins and 17 Lamborghinis — people go to his garage’s website (of course his garage has its own website) to ogle his cars and leave appreciative remarks. (Like President Obama, Leno’s big on green cars: He’s got 39 of them, which probably negates the environmental benefit of buying a green car, but whatever.) There are lots of children of rich and powerful men who do not turn out to be 0.01 percent as successful as Mitt Romney has. Meghan McCain’s father is a rich guy and a failed presidential candidate, just like Mitt’s. Anybody think Meghan McCain’s life is going to turn out like Mitt Romney’s?
Romney should try to find out whatever the hell happened to fellow gazillionaire William Weld, last seen nodding off in the lunchroom at McDermott Will & Emery, though by no means should he let it be known that he is seeking the advice of another moderate Republican ex-governor of Massachusetts. Weld has occasionally disastrous political judgment (he endorsed Romney in the 2008 primary but endorsed Barack Obama in the general) but he carried off the rich-guy thing with real panache. When it was suggested that his aristocratic background would prevent his understanding the problems of the common man, Weld retorted that his family “arrived in 1630 with only the shirts on their back . . . and 2,000 pounds of gold.” Romney, the millionaire executive/governor/presidential-candidate son of a millionaire executive/governor/presidential candidate, would be blessed to be as comfortable in his own pampered skin as Weld was.
It isn’t just that he has money — it’s how he got the money. Sure, he grew up rich — Dad was the CEO of American Motors. (Hey, where was their bailout?) But Mitt didn’t inherit his fortune: He gave away everything his father left him, establishing a school of public management in his father’s memory. (Old-school patriarchs build monuments to their fathers.) Why would he do a thing like that? Because he didn’t need the money: “I figured we had enough of our own,” he explained. And then some. George Romney made his money by being a boss — a leader. Mitt Romney has been the same thing. When things went wrong, people put Romney in charge of them — at Bain, at the Olympics, at a hundred companies he helped turn around or restructure. Bain is a financial firm, but Romney wasn’t some Wall Street bank-monkey with a pitch book. He was the guy who fired you. He was a boss, like his dad, and like his sons probably will be. Barack Obama was never in charge of anything of any significance until the delicate geniuses who make up the electorate of this fine republic handed him the keys to the Treasury and the nuclear football because we were tired of Frenchmen sneering at us when we went on vacation. Obama made his money in part through political connections — no, I don’t think Michelle Obama was worth nearly 400 grand a year — and by authoring two celebrity memoirs, his sole innovation in life having been to write the memoir first and become a celebrity second. Can you imagine Barack Obama trying to pull off a hostile takeover without Rahm Emanuel holding his diapers up for him? Impossible.
Elections are not about public policy. They aren’t even about the economy. Elections are tribal, and tribes are — Occupy types, cover your delicate ears — ruthlessly hierarchical. Somebody has to be the top dog. As much as we’d all like to forget Al Gore ever existed, it’s worth keeping in mind that ridiculous episode in which Naomi Wolf tried to teach him to be more of an overdog. Slate, after poking fun at her advising him to wear more earth-toned suits, reported it thus:
Wolf’s non-sartorial advice to Gore — and to President Clinton before him, as an unpaid adviser — is even stranger. She coached each to emphasize his manly strengths, relying on hoary, tired gender stereotypes. She reportedly told Gore that he is the “beta male” who must fight Clinton’s “alpha male” for dominance. And as an adviser to the Clinton White House, she informed the president that the nation was searching for a “good-father role model” to “build a house” for the country. “I will not let anyone or anything touch the bedrock,” Wolf wrote in one memo for him. “I will DEFEND/PROTECT the foundation.” This came only three years after the publication of her book Fire with Fire, in which she savaged Republican spin doctors for positioning George Bush as “the reassuring arch-patriarch.”
Reassuring arch-patriarch — maybe one with enough sons and grandsons to form a pillaging band of marauders? Hillary Rodham Clinton told us that it takes a village, and Mitt Romney showed us how to populate a village with thriving offspring. Newsweek, which as of this writing is still in business, recently ran a cover photo of Romney with the headline: “The Wimp Factor: Is He Just Too Insecure to Be President?” Look at his fat stacks. Look at that mess of sons and grandchildren. Look at a picture of Ann Romney on her wedding day and that cocky smirk on his face. What exactly has Mitt Romney got to be insecure about? That he’s not as prodigious a patriarch as Ramses II or as rich as Lakshmi Mittal? I bet he sleeps at night and never worries about that. He has done everything right in life, and he should own it. And by own it, I mean put it on the black card and stow it in the G6 — or at least in first class, for Pete’s sake.