The ideological chasm behind the personal narratives of Obama and Romney

Rich Lowry argues that “of all the tasks for the Romney campaign at this week’s Republican convention, burnishing the personal image of the candidate should be the easiest.” According to Lowry, Romney “is a man utterly committed to his family and his faith, whose life is studded with acts of devotion and generosity.”

In offering this assessment, Lowry relies, as he should, on the book The Real Romney, written by two Boston Globe reporters. In a post from a few months ago, quoting from that book, I highlighted several of the specific acts of personal kindness and generosity documented therein. After describing such acts, the authors state:

Everyone who knows Romney in the church community seems to have a story about him and his family pitching in to help in ways big and small. They took chicken and asparagus soup to sick parishioners. They invited unsettled Mormon transplants in their home for lasagna.

Would it be racist to ask whether President Obama has ever gone out of his way to help anyone? Not to help the masses through community organizing, but to help an individual in personal need.

Did Obama ever take time out from his relentless march to the top to help a temporarily disabled neighbor clean out a hornet’s nest, as Romney did? Did Obama ever provide money to a down-on-its-luck family in his community and spend “an infinite amount of time” helping them find work, as Romney did? Did Obama ever assist in an emergency the way Romney did during a fire when he helped salvage the victims’ personal property until the firemen ordered him to stop?

If so, Team Obama has been uncharacteristically silent about it.

Personal kindness and generosity are not qualifications for the presidency. But Obama wants to portray Romney as heartless. He is anything but. As for Obama, could this be a case of someone who loves “humanity” but doesn’t care all that much for humans?

I don’t know, but there is much to be learned from the competing narratives about the personal qualities of the two candidates. Obama established his bona fides as a good guy by pointing to his work as a “community organizer.” He could, the narrative goes, have made plenty of money in the corporate world, but instead opted to help poor folks in Chicago. Helping turned out to mean organizing them in furtherance of the political objectives favored by Obama and his fellow leftists.

Romney, if his campaign follows Lowry’s advice, will try to show he’s a good guy by pointing to his actions as a friend, neighbor and church member. The contrast is clear: Obama tried to help people by organizing them in furtherance of political goals; Romney’s good acts were free of political content.

If personal kindness and generosity are the issues, then only Romney’s acts establish these qualities. Until recently, no one hoping for mainstream appeal would even think to prove their kindness and generosity by reference to political action. Organizing people for political objectives might show personal determination, sacrifice, good political skill, and “correct” political belief. But it would not tend to show that one is a good person.

Modern left liberalism hopes to change this time-honored way of looking at people. Such thinking represents an attempt to obliterate the distinction between the personal and the political. At root, it is the stuff of totalitarianism.

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