The Limits of Charity
When I first saw a picture of Mitt Romney in front of a crowd of a couple of hundred supporters in Kettering, Ohio, which he had tried to transform from a political rally to a disaster relief benefit, my immediate reaction was "Oh, my God, is he really doing this?" I was embarrassed for him. I felt sorry for him.
This was a pitiful attempt to rise to the occasion in the face of a national tragedy. If I could see the bad optics of it, I do not understand why his political operatives did not. In fact, they did suspect something. What if people did not bring a lot of things to donate? To avoid this they went out in the previous evening to Walmart and purchased items to salt the gift giving in order to guarantee that Mitt would not be standing next to an empty meager table of items. When I learned this it all appeared even worse. He was trying to gain some political point with a cheap trick, a faux act of charity. It is like dropping a few cents into the cup of a beggar, when it is within you powers to give much more and even offer him a hand up and take him to lunch as an opportunity to find out if you can do any thing further to help.
What could Mitt Romney have done that would have impressed me? He could have done what was well within his power to do (he actually hinted at this in his speech) as an example of the best of volunteerism and charity. He could have "given according to his means" as we were encouraged to do in every Sunday collections of my youth.
He should have announce that he was suspending his political campaigning. He then should have made it clear that as a citizen he supported the President and the national effort. He should have avoided any a priori criticism of President Obama.
Romney could have then announced that he made a substantial donation from his own pocket to the efforts of the Red Cross relief. Say, $500,000 as a down .payment. Long ago, I learned in church fund raising you begin by finding the wealthiest member and ask them to give an exemplary gift or pledge to lead the way. so other might know where they are in the pyramid of givers with the church. With great wealth comes great responsibility. He could have gone on to say he had instructed several of his staff to help him contact his wealthy friends, who also believe in the American way of voluntary charity, to give funds at a level where it will hurt at this time of national tragedy. Perhaps, he could say he would like to see some of the millions being raised in his name be diverted to the relief effort, if legally possible. We certainly could do without a few of the negative ads filled with lies. If Romney has done all or some of this, I would be impressed that he actually believed that the private sector, (better than government). through acts of charity could respond to national tragedies. It is the "American Way" that those can afford to give will give selflessly at the level they are able when they see the need..
I, of course, disagree with volunteer charity as being the way to solve social and tragic events. The days of churches or private charities leading the way are gone. Now we pay taxes and expect our governments to serve the public by taking the lead in time of need.
There is a role for private good will as we so often see in times of National and International tragedy. but not to the level that government can respond.. Often though, it does more for the giver that it does for the receiver.The giver feels good and is relieved of the guilt feeling that they are so privileged while others are struggling, even to the point of death from lack of assistance.
At a time when it would have been nice to see, from the many personas of Mitt Romney, the one where he step up and saved the Salt Lake Olympics, we sadly got the hapless Romney making a meager effort at charity which was in fact a cheap political stunt. . "W have a few people hurting" is his assessment. What about the millions of people whose lives have been forever altered and the 300,000 properties destroyed or in need of repair, And, a shoreline disappeared and infrastructure severely damaged?. His effort seems insincere like a man remote from the struggle of so many people.The image of the man who would be President was much tarnished by this half baked effort at meaningful charity..