Human Events Blog

The quiet strength of charity

During her speech at the Republican National Convention, Ann Romney made two important references to her husband’s charitable endeavors.  “I know this good and decent man for what he is: warm and loving and patient,” she said.  “He has tried to live his life with a set of values centered on family, faith, and love of one’s fellow man.  From the time we were first married, I’ve seen him spend countless hours helping others.  I’ve seen him drop everything to help a friend in trouble, and been there when late-night calls of panic came from a member of our church whose child had been taken to the hospital.”

Later in her speech, Mrs. Romney said of her husband’s great business success: “It’s given us the deep satisfaction of being able to help others in ways that we could never have imagined.  Mitt doesn’t like to talk about how he has helped others because he sees it as a privilege, not a political talking point.  And we’re no different than the millions of Americans who quietly help their neighbors, their churches and their communities.  They don’t do it so that others will think more of them.  They do it because there is no greater joy.”

She wasn’t exaggerating about Mitt Romney’s reluctance to discuss his charitable endeavors.  “Charity” means more than just donating money to worthy causes.  Romney has spent an astonishing amount of his time helping others – from small acts of personal kindness, to remarkable deeds like shutting down Bain Capital to help find the missing daughter of a partner, an action the girl’s father credits with saving her life.

Some of these stories are so astounding that they left the “fact checkers,” who set out to “debunk” what they initially assumed to be viral Internet mythology, reeling in shock.  I suspect a major component of their surprise was the point Ann Romney made: unlike most politicians, Mitt never used these compassionate deeds to burnish his political credentials.  He wasn’t looking for applause in July of 1996; he was looking for a missing girl.

But if there was ever a time to talk about Mitt Romney’s personal charity in public, it is now.  Voters judge presidential candidates by their character.  It would be silly – indeed, it would be unfair to the American electorate – to conceal these crucial aspects of Romney’s character.

And so, on Thursday night, we were introduced to Ted and Pat Oparowski, whose dying 14-year-old son David was befriended by Mitt Romney in 1979.  “It’s been over 30 years since we lost our son David.  The memories are still vivid and painful,” Mr. Oparowski said.  “But we wanted to share them with you, because David’s story is a part of Mitt’s story.”

It would be sinful to merely summarize that story.  Watch it for yourself below, if you didn’t see it Thursday night.  It wasn’t part of the heavily-broadcast 10:00 PM hour, so many people missed it.

We also heard from Pam Finlayson, who got to know Mitt Romney during a drive-by laundry folding in 1982.  Romney and his family helped her through the difficult birth, and miraculous life, of her daughter Kate:

Charity takes many forms.  There’s a lot of good work waiting to be done out there.  It takes time, including the time concentrated and stored within dollar bills.  A weak, exhausted, bankrupt, dependent nation has little strength available for the expression of compassion.  For too long, we have accepted the bleak fantasy that only massive government bureaucracies, extracting money through compulsive force, can render effective assistance to the needy.  We’ve poured our strength into a system that delivers only pennies on the dollar to deserving recipients.  Our industry withers beneath its growing demands, which are always presented as selfless public service to the downtrodden, even though only a tiny fraction of its rusted machinery is truly dedicated to such purposes.

What good can we do, for imperiled and suffering people – within our borders, and around the world – if we sink helplessly into dependency, redistribution, and command economics?  Where will the strength for tomorrow’s benevolence come from, if a shrinking private sector populated by increasingly less free people are forbidden from seeking opportunity, and denied the capital to exploit what little they can find?  What room remains for voluntary charity, when a weary people must work over half the year to fulfill the mandatory obligations imposed upon them by politicians?

I used to do volunteer work for a small cancer charity.  We helped a lot of people over the years.  We recently made the painful decision to shut down our operation, because it became too hard to collect a meaningful amount of donations.  We heard the same story, over and over again: I just can’t spare anything in this economy.

Presidential elections are about more than just selecting a new chief engineer for the immense system reaching from Washington into every American home and business.  They are a chance for us to express who we are as a people, and how we want our nation to grow.  It is foolish to limit our minds and hearts by childishly deciding that one particular direction, the perpetual growth of the central State, is “forward,” while all others are “regressive.”  There is nothing inevitable about collapsing into weakness, obedience, and bitter division.

I don’t want to live in an America of mandates, commands, moratoriums, bailouts, confiscation, redistribution, compulsion, and obligation.  I don’t want to live among able-bodied people who believe they are helpless, because someone’s ideology tells them so.  I don’t want to take care of adults who spend their days living as children.  I’m tired of hearing that some people shouldn’t take risks, because they don’t stand a chance.  I’ve had my fill of inertia marketed as desperation, and freedom dismissed as selfishness.  I’m tired of hearing that obedience is the only way to express compassion.  I am sick unto death of “leaders” who presume knowledge of what I’m entitled to, what I’m capable of, and what I don’t care about.

I want to live in a nation that keeps company with dying children and nourishes their dreams.  I want to live in a country strong and kind enough to carry Thanksgiving feasts and Christmas presents to people who truly need help.  I want to look through tangles of plastic and tubes, to see beautiful little girls and boys.  I want to be part of a country that makes time to rescue lost people from dark places.  I want to invite open hearts into the joyous communion of charity.  I want to be part of a great and generous American story that is written by millions of hands, not dictated by a few.

I think Mitt Romney is an extraordinary man, running for the presidency of a country filled with men and women just like him.

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