It was a simple line in the Democratic National Convention Keynote address by San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. But for me it really defines the difference between Mitt Romney and the Democratic Party. Mr. Castro was referring to remarks Romney made at a university in Ohio, urging students to “start a business”. “But how?”, one student asked. “Borrow money from your parents if you have to“, Romney told them. That’s when Julian said, shaking his head and smiling broadly said “Gee, why didn’t I think of that?“. Smiling, because he and his twin brother Joaquin were raised by their grandmother and mother, who had no money to loan him. “My grandmother never owned a house,” Julian explained. “She cleaned other people’s houses so she could afford to rent her own. But she saw her daughter become the first in her family to graduate from college. And my mother fought hard for civil rights so that instead of a mop, I could hold this microphone“. Shaking his head because Willard M. Romney doesn’t get that. A son of privilege, Romney went to private schools and never had to worry about excelling and outperforming his classmates so he could get a scholarship enabling him to attend Stanford like Julian and Joaquin did. Romney’s dad paid his tuition. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that – George Romney earned his money and can spend it anyway he wants. And, as most parents do, he no doubt wanted to help his son in any way he could so that he could be successful and have a better life than he did. As Julian explained: “Some people are lucky enough to borrow money from their parents, but that shouldn’t determine whether you can pursue your dreams. Not in America. Not in the 21st century“. His mother and grandmother wanted Julian and his brother to be successful and have a better life then them, the same as George Romney wanted for his children. What they had to give was this:
“When I think about the challenges in front us, I think about the importance of teachers who can inspire you, the individual difference that they can make in the classroom, the beauty and the strength of a parent who loves his or her child, and is committed enough to stay involved in their education, and make a difference in it. And the importance of a child who has aspirations — they see the stars and they want to reach them.”
The product of a middle class family, I didn’t have it nearly as tough as Julian and his brother, but I can relate to their story. My father was one of 7 brothers and sisters orphaned in the midst of the Great Depression. He never got to pursue his dream of a college education, but took correspondence schooling and night classes and was able to work his way up to a position as a mechanical design engineer in the aerospace industry. As a parent his new dream was that each of his three children would have what he couldn’t have – a college education. He put my brother and sister through college, and both are very successful. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I graduated from high school and decided to work for a while. When I finally figured out what I wanted, it was something my father couldn’t give me. I wanted a degree in Hotel Management, and I wanted a degree from the premier school for that – the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. My father said he would try to help, and a I politely told him no, he wouldn’t – I would do it. I wasn’t the most stellar student in high school, so first I went to Community College for a year and got straight A’s. I worked as a waiter in a restaurant to pay for it. Then I applied to Cornell, and was granted a very generous scholarship. That coupled with student loans and Pell Grants enabled me to earn my Bachelor’s Degree in Hotel Administration from Cornell University. But, I didn’t “build that”. The generosity of Cornell alumni who went before me, contributing to the scholarship endowment fund helped me build that. The United States Government, through grants and low interest student loans helped me build that. The drive and determination to succeed that was instilled in me by my father and mother helped me build that. We all “built” my Bachelor’s Degree, together.
What defines us as Democrats? I think Julian Castro said it best last night:
“We know that in our free market economy some will prosper more than others. What we don’t accept is the idea that some folks won’t even get a chance. We all understand that freedom isn’t free. What Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan don’t understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.”
Gee, Mitt – why didn’t you think of that?