Why It’s So Easy for Men Like Mitt Romney to Believe in the American Dream

The problem with privileged white males.

My sister is married to a wealthy lawyer. He sent their kids to private school, he told me once, so that they “wouldn’t have to come into contact with the sort of people he didn’t want them to”—by which he meant, of course, people like me and my kids, who went to public school. He said this with a breathtaking lack of self-consciousness, as if it was a sentiment that all people naturally share. Which of course it is, if by “people” you mean people like him. Which he did.

Which brings us to Mitt Romney.

The great secret of people like Mitt Romney—and Dan Quayle and his son Ben, and the two Bushes—is that they know they’re pretty much not great shakes. They’re aware they’re not the sharpest tools in the tool shed. They recognize that they haven’t had to work very hard to get where they are.

And therein lies the problem with privilege. When your path in life is smoothed all along the way by money and its perquisites—fancy private schools, ritzy colleges that admit you because you’re a legacy, social clubs and fraternities that seek you out, nifty first jobs at law firms or in political campaigns, businesses that fail but that never let you fail—you’re bound to wind up thinking: “You know what? This isn’t so hard.” And the natural corollary? “Anybody ought to be able to do this.” And the follow-up: “Anyone who can’t is clearly lazy or an idiot.” And there you have the notorious 47 percent.

Think about it. You’re George W. Bush, you got crappy grades at Yale, you got to be a National Guard pilot despite your low aptitude scores and record of poor attendance, you became a drunk, you drove the Texas Rangers into the ground, you ran an oil company that failed—and hell, the country still elected you president! Talk about a low bar! These are the kinds of people who rub shoulders at the top of the one percent. They’re the people my brother-in-law’s kids go to school with. Can’t you see how easy this makes it for you to completely disparage society’s losers? Christ on a cracker, how dumb must they be?

Or be Mitt. Run for the Senate and lose. Run for governor of Massachusetts and win, but decline to run again so you can instead focus on winning the Republican nomination for the presidency. Which—you won’t, losing out to John McCain. But! Try again in 2012 and get nominated, even though you’re nobody’s favorite candidate—maybe because of that. See? How hard can life be? All you have to do is show up, practically!

These people out there complaining about their taxes—sheesh! Why don’t they just use my accountant? These women whining about access to contraception—Ann never wanted contraception! She wanted sons! If you need money for college, just ask your freaking parents, like I did! If you get sick, just go to the emergency room! That’s what I did after I was driving that car in France and that woman got killed!

Romney doesn’t think he’s all that. He knows he’s not—and yet look where he stands, on the threshold of winning the presidency! The rest of you out there—the short-order cooks, the single moms, the waiters, the trash-truck drivers, the schoolteachers, the elderly, the disabled—come on! You must not even be trying! You’re trying even less than I am, and I’m hardly trying at all!

Of course, should he win, he won’t see any reason on God’s green Earth to extend a hand to help you with those bootstraps. Why should he, when you won’t even help yourself?