My introduction (so to speak) to Ann Romney came, if I recall correctly, about two years ago, when I read an article (I can’t remember where) that profiled the Romneys in-depth. The article discussed the Seamus matter, and the 2007 Boston Globe article in which the Romneys’ son Tagg revealed the incident to reporter Neil Swidey.
But I had heard about that before; I read Gail Collins’ New York Times column regularly, and have reacted to the incident with as much dismay as she has. And I had wondered before why Ann hadn’t disabused her husband of the idea that they should put the dog, rather than, say, the luggage or athletic equipment that they also were transporting on the station wagon roof. And I wondered this again when reading the new detailed profile, which pointed out that during those long trips, Romney refused to stop for bathroom breaks at the request of any of the kids, but would do so at Ann’s request.
In fact, a strong theme of the article is that Ann pretty much calls the shots on family matters. Large and small. Including, the article said, on the whether to enlarge their home, repeatedly, so that even in their upscale suburb—an older elegant suburb of Boston, which Wikipedia says has seen little growth since the 1950s and “is best known for the mansion-filled Belmont Hill neighborhood, although most residents live in more densely settled, low-lying areas around the Hill”—the house now dwarfs nearby ones.
According to the article, during Romney’s run for governor, some of their neighbors complained publicly about the Romneys’ outside expansion of their home in the older, built-up suburb. Friends of the Romneys had told reporters then that it was Ann who had wanted the expansions. When asked about it by a reporter, she said that she and her husband wanted the expansions because they wanted their house to be the one where their kids and their friends wanted to spend most of their time.
That’s right. Ann Romney thought it wouldn’t sufficiently tug at the heartstrings of parents to simply explain that they had five children, close in age and all still at home when the expansions were done, and that they wanted more room for the family. No, instead, her tin ear told her it was better politically to say they decided to use their larger purchasing power to buy the favor of their kids and their kids’ friends and win the competition for who’s home was most preferred as a hangout. After all, doesn’t every parent want that? And so wouldn’t every parent identify with their decision to grow their home in proportion to their huge income?
Well, yes, to the first question. And, no, to the second one. Or at least, no, to the indifference this woman showed to the interests of others—so indifferent that she thought it was a good political move to say what she said.
I thought of that article today when reading comments on another website about the news reports of Ann’s remarks last night in a radio interview in Iowa:
Stop it. This is hard. You want to try it? Get in the ring. This is hard and, you know, it’s an important thing that we’re doing right now and it’s an important election and it is time for all Americans to realize how significant this election is and how lucky we are to have someone with Mitt’s qualifications and experience and know-how to be able to have the opportunity to run this country.
One of the commenters mentioned a statement by Ann back in May or June, shortly after her husband had secured the nomination, in which she said, “It’s our turn.” I remember the statement well—its smugness and, even more than that, its self-absorption. It’s all about them, apparently, according to her, I remember thinking. I was surprised at the time that more wasn’t made of the comment, in the media. But it probably was viewed as a one-off. And she isn’t the candidate; she’s just the candidate’s wife.
But as more time has passed, and she’s been more prominent in the campaign, here vapidity, shallowness and utter self-absorption seem to me striking—and undeniable. When she talks about her own (very serious) medical problems, she gives no indication at all that she’s aware that many others have very serious medical problems but no way to buy a horse for therapy. When she talks about her family’s travails other than her serious medical problems, she lists long, rainy afternoons when her kids grew antsy and noisy in her huge home with so many amenities that the kids and their friends all wanted to spend a lot of time there. When she talks of her husband’s generosity, with his time and his money, she talks of his kindnesses and generosity toward their friends, extended family members and members of their religious order; she gives no hint that he, or she, has ever had a generous thought toward anyone else.
Chances are, he (if not she) has, but apparently neither of them realizes that kindnesses, love and emotional support, or at least empathy, toward people with whom they can’t quiet identify may be important for someone in high public office to have. And, conversely, that being, say, a parent who wants the best for her kids at the expense of other parents isn’t a public policy position. Or at least isn’t one that will endear you to others. And, for that matter, that being a parent who wants the best for her kids, period, hardly distinguishes you from others, and that it isn’t a public policy position. I’d say she needs a new schtik, but I don’t think this is a schtik. I think there’s just nothing more to her. No discernible depth whatsoever. Unless you count her promise during her convention speech that “this man will not fail!”
By now, anyone who hasn’t noticed this woman’s vapidity, shallowness and bald cluelessness hasn’t been paying much attention or is just blinded by partisanship. Nor is my view a partisan one. It’s absolutely impossible for me to imagine Cindy McCain, Laura Bush or Barbara Bush (none of whom were political personalities in their own right, as was Elizabeth Dole) making such hollow, shallow comments, much less doing it incessantly, uninterrupted by anything thoughtful. Then again, those three women had actual brains. And some substance.
I don’t begrudge Ann Romney her moments of public frustration and anger. These last two weeks surely have been an emotional ordeal for her, it’s been a long, long, trying campaign, and she is, after all, just the candidate’s spouse, not the candidate. And there’s a limit to the snarkiness that I want to employ against the spouse of a candidate. But after months of trying to like her, then to tolerate her, even if I couldn’t stand her husband, I’ve found it, well, hard.