Labor's Pains

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mitt, Tagg, And The Romney Family's Myth Of Self-Reliance | The New Republic

Mitt, Tagg, And The Romney Family's Myth Of Self-Reliance | The New Republic:

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THIS WAS SUPPOSED to be the race that Tagg Romney took easy. When his father ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, Tagg signed on as a full-time staffer and even served as the campaign manager for Mitt’s running mate. Four years later, when Mitt began to run for president, Tagg moved his family back to Boston from Los Angeles so he could man a desk at campaign headquarters.
But by the beginning of this campaign season, Tagg had a daughter in high school and twins on the way. He’d recently started a private-equity firm called Solamere. He was in his early forties and gave the impression of someone who had better things to do than hole up in a cubicle piled high with pizza boxes. A new arrangement was struck: He would schlep off to any ballroom or spin-room where he could help as a surrogate. He would be on call to sweet-talk donors and buck up supporters. And, of course, he would always be available for late-night calls with his dad. But he wouldn’t take a job with the campaign or linger around the office. He would continue to run his firm.
It didn’t quite work out that way. This summer, staffers noticed Tagg turning up at Romney headquarters. By September, he had mostly put his day job on hold. When David Wright, a longtime family friend, recently asked how he could tend to the firm while scrambling for his dad, Tagg more or less conceded he couldn’t. “I’ve fortunately got great partners,” he said.
Earlier this month, Politico outed him as the leader of a family “intervention” that resulted in the kinder, gentler, more moderate Mitt Romney on display at the first debate. Though Tagg insists the story is pure fantasy—“News to me,” he cracked when I saw him at a recent event—his own stump speech acknowledges his ever-escalating involvement. “A few months ago, I told the campaign that, at crunch time, I’d be willing to do whatever it takes,” he told an audience of well-wishers. “I kind of thought they would have me on the road a day or two a week. Well, it turns out they put me on the road seven days a week.”
The punishing schedule—one friend compares it to “coughing blood”—is especially curious in light of how badly Tagg wants to be seen as more than his father’s son. Indeed, if all families have their own myths, a kind of founding narrative that’s passed down through the generations, for the Romneys it’s about personal initiative. George Romney’s family fled the Mexican revolution destitute when he was five years old, heightening his pride in the wealth and power he attained later in life. Mitt Romney speaks often about giving away his inheritance so that whatever he achieved would be his alone. “Everything that Ann and I have, we earned the old-fashioned way, and that’s by hard work,” he said at the notorious Boca Raton fund-raiser in May. For his part, Tagg “has a high desire to make Solamere a big success,” says one close friend, adding that he’s determined to “create his own name.”
What’s so strange about the Romney myth is that its grip hasn’t weakened even as it has become less true. The affluence Mitt was born into paid for his elite education and financed his first home. The wealth Tagg stands to inherit has given him the freedom to pursue any career and take any professional risk he wants.
That’s not to say he set out to trade on his pedigree. Not long after graduating from Harvard Business School, he turned down offers from several prominent firms to join an obscure start-up called eGrad, whose meager resources gave it a kind of grunge aesthetic: secondhand furniture and heating so erratic he brought in blankets to keep warm. When Tagg wasn’t cold calling would-be corporate partners, he could sometimes be found packaging merchandise and mailing it. But making it on your own is never so clear-cut when you’re a Romney. Some of the biggest meetings he landed were with Staples, which his father had funded at Bain Capital, and General Motors, a company where his last name still carried weight.
Tagg’s biography is littered with similar stories—short cuts he couldn’t have taken without his last name, obstacles that melted away before he was even aware of them. And yet, thanks to the Romney myth, he and his family believe that most of what he has achieved comes from old-fashioned industriousness, not older-fashioned status and wealth.
Tagg’s blind spots, however, are largely forgivable. Everyone looks in the mirror on occasion and sees a taller, thinner, more virtuous version of himself. The problem is that Tagg’s blind spots are also Mitt’s. And Mitt’s peculiar version of reality doesn’t just drive him personally; it skews his politics and shapes his policies. It distorts his entire vision of how a president should govern.

original post: http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/magazine/108815/tagg-romney-myth-self-reliance#

THE HOME WHERE Tagg Romney grew up in the Boston suburb of Belmont was large but hardly extravagant. There were no full-time maids or butlers, certainly no car elevators. His father preferred to live below his means and, until Tagg was 14, Mitt was just a moderately affluent consultant, not the private-equity titan he would become. If Mitt so much as saw an overpriced item at the supermarket, he’d grumble—and in some cases even bolt. He’d get especially peeved about the cost of movie tickets. “We’d be like, ‘Dad, you can afford it,’” explains Tagg’s younger brother Josh. “And he’d say, ‘That’s not the point. These guys are charging an unfair price.’ It would get embarrassing.” The sense of modesty was so ingrained that when Tagg, then serving in France on his Mormon mission, heard that his family was buying a five-bedroom, $1.25 million villa, he suddenly became queasy. “How can you afford that house?” he asked his dad, according to The Boston Globe.

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