Often when I’m waiting in line to pursue my long-term financial planning strategy, which is how I think of buying Powerball tickets, my mind wanders to the irony: I’d love to cash a big Powerball ticket, but I already won the lottery, on Dec. 12, 1970, when I was born.
I think it’s important to recognize that. And I get frustrated with people who can’t or won’t. Mitt Romney is one of those people.
Just being born in the United States is a huge win. Less than 5 percent of the world’s population is lucky enough to cash the ticket that is being American. This is a free land, a place of plentiful food and high incomes, a nation of order and opportunity. My being here doesn’t make me better than folks born in Rwanda or Libya or Afghanistan or Mexico. It marks me as more fortunate.
I won again when I was born to kind and loving parents who were reasonably well educated, dedicated to their children, and married for life. I had food, clothing and shelter that were more than ample. Just as important, they tried to instill in me a work ethic (it didn’t take as quickly as they might have wished), and they tried to treat me to an expensive education.
Then there are the gifts from God: health and strength, and a mind functional enough that it allows me to write for a living.
I am, in many ways, a conservative. But one aspect of liberalism I respect greatly is that it acknowledges the tremendous power of luck in life, and argues that those who have benefited from it owe a certain debt of gratitude, best paid off by helping those who haven’t.
And if there’s an aspect of conservatism I despise, it’s the assertion, silent or spoken, that luck doesn’t exist and all success derives from virtue.
I’m not at all uncomfortable with Romney’s $250 million fortune. It’s his. He earned it. He deserves to enjoy it and pass it on to his children. And he’s a charitable guy, so I’m certainly not accusing him of selfishness. But I am uncomfortable with the fact that he seems to ascribe every aspect of his success to virtue, and seems to give none of the credit for his very great fortune to his very great fortune.
But the difference between Romney or some Wall Street magnate who donates to his campaign and a roofer or soldier or fisherman isn’t how hard they work. It’s luck.
And the difference between these folks and a skid-row bum is largely luck, too. Nobody wants to fail, or be homeless, or give his life over to drugs and alcohol. Those who do are broken vessels, and we who don’t are fortunate.
This is something President Obama seems to understand and communicate far better than Romney.
There’s no way for everyone to be born on third base, as Romney was, or second, as I was, or even with the talent needed to hit the ball and run the bases. But those of us granted such gifts shouldn’t pretend we aren’t lucky.
That’s like hitting the Powerball for $300 million and bragging about how hard we worked to pick the right numbers.