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Monday, July 14, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 58.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Citizen Dave: Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, and the truth about what we all inherit

Look, none of us is a self-made person.
Look, none of us is a self-made person.
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It's now clear to just about everybody that when Mitt Romney goes to get his next pair of shoes, they should measure his mouth instead of his feet.

Gaffes actually run in the family. His father, George, was the Governor of Michigan and running for the GOP presidential nomination in 1968 when he said he had been "brainwashed" about Vietnam. That effectively killed his chances. What George Romney meant to say, and should have said, was that he had been led astray by politicians and generals who weren't being honest with him or the American people about what was happening there.

Ironically, the elder Romney was an old-style progressive Republican who, as HUD secretary under Nixon, pushed for more affordable housing and desegregation of the suburbs.

I'm sure if his son could get a do-over about his comment that he didn't "care about the very poor," he'd take it back. Let's be generous in this space and assume for the moment that Romney does actually care about the poor. His words still matter because they reveal tone deafness and a state of mind that doesn't connect with the experience of most Americans.

And while the comment about the poor was probably a one-off mistake that he's unlikely to repeat, another line that he often uses deserves closer examination because, again, it reveals volumes about how a guy who wants to lead our nation views the world.

That line usually goes something like this: "I didn't inherit money from my parents. What I have, I earned. I worked hard, the American way."

According to PolitiFact, there's some truth and some obfuscation to Romney's line. He did inherit money from his father, but by the time George Romney died in 1995, Mitt was already well enough off to donate the inheritance.

Mitt apparently had what amounts to a trust fund as a young adult. Romney doesn't refer specifically to having a trust fund, but his wife Ann is quoted as saying that they didn't have to work as young married students because Mitt had stock that he could sell off. And Romney himself refers to an "allowance" that allowed him to fly home frequently from Stanford and other places where he was studying. (For the record, I also had an allowance in college. My mom sent me $25 a month. I mostly spent it on beer and pizza. I used my life savings of $3,000 and took out a small loan to complete my education at the UW.)

The stock proceeds and allowance aside, Mitt Romney went to some of the finest schools in America (the Cranebrook School, and Harvard Law and Business) where he got a great education and made connections that would benefit him for a lifetime. Did he pay his way through school? Did he get into those schools with no help from the family name?

Look, none of us is a self-made person. And I don't begrudge (much) those who are born with money and connections, especially when they use them the way Teddy Roosevelt or his cousin Franklin or John and Bobby Kennedy used them, to gain power and deploy it in a way that helps poor and average Americans.

Moreover, we all admire hard work and risk-taking, and there's no question that some of those admirable human qualities contributed to Mitt's success. But to try to make the case that any of us is not the product of the gifts of genetics and upbringing or the handicaps of broken homes and bad schools is just not dealing in reality.

In fact, a recent study suggests that America is a much less socially mobile society than Europe, precisely because of the built-in advantages of being upper middle class here and the inherent disadvantages of growing up poor in a country with a thin social safety net. I blogged about that a few weeks ago. It's not so much about literally inheriting money; it's about the common advantages of the education and connections that come with the territory when you're upper middle class.

So, the election in November will come down to two millionaires who couldn't be more different as people. One had virtually every advantage that life could deal him but he seems to take those advantages for granted. The other, the product of a relatively poor single mom and an absent father, never complains about the challenges he faced and overcame to become President of the United States. And I have never heard Barack Obama claim that he did it by himself.

So who is more the self-made man?

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