Has it occurred to anyone besides us that last week’s appearance by Ted and Pat Oparowski in Tampa at the Republican Convention might be the single-most undisguised case of cruelty recently seen on the political scene?
The Oparowskis live in Randolph, Vermont. Apparently they are Mormons, or were at one time. That was how they met Mitt Romney when, in his largely unremarked guise as a good guy of yore, he devoted time and care and feeling to the last months of their son David’s life.
The Oparowskis’ eight minutes at the Republican podium was a highlight of the convention’s final night, and left many commentators scratching the words “political malpractice” on their note pads. Why? Because together the couple was open, honest, moving, sad and at the same time brave, as they effusively thanked Mr. Romney for his attention and concern. There were no dry eyes in the enormous house.
The “political malpractice” notes came as listeners realized that had the Oparowskis been brought forward, or placed in a commercial, many questions about Mr. Romney’s humanity would have been answered weeks or months earlier. While Ann Romney’s “This man will not fail” was, of its kind, the most effective endorsement of her husband, the Oparowski’s endorsement, or pay-back, if you will, sealed the deal for millions.
So, what’s so cruel about all this?
Briefly, and to the point, the Oparowskis are exactly the kind of couple the Romney/Ryan ticket seeks to ruin financially at the very end of their loving life together.
Does the word “voucher” ring in your ears, yet?
Ted Oparowski was a firefighter in Medford, Massachusetts, for twenty seven years, which is where he met Mitt Romney. Ted’s son was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
During the next few years, Mr. Romney voluntarily and with what we assume to be concern and love visited this youngster, making sure his last wishes —a fireworks display, a well-drawn will, Mitt delivering his eulogy years later— were carried out.
At the end of their presentation, the Oparowskis hoped that “God would continue to bless Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in their efforts. In doing so, He would bless the United States of America.”
Now this is a complex scenario.
We can’t know what the Oparowskis were promised for their appearance. We hope to God it wasn’t money.
Chances are they were flown south, put up at a nice hotel, had their meals and entertainment picked up by the Republican National Committee.
And afterwards, they were driven to the Tampa Airport and returned safely to Vermont.
But there are a number of items of which we would like greater understanding.
Did Mr. Romney keep a diary of his daily Mormon duties, and his accomplishments? That would not be unusual, or unexpected. Did he rifle through his files looking for people he might have helped with whom he had formed lasting relationships? That, too, would be understandable.
Cashing in years later on their relationship is a little disquieting.
On the other hand, it’s perfectly possible that the “reach out” was from the Oparowskis themselves, pleased to be able to repay in a way Mr. Romney’s attentions and efforts.
It’s perfectly possible that on their return to Vermont, they will live as happily ever after as people of any station can who have slowly healing wounds and memories.
But what still troubles us is the Republican platform and its plan to revamp Medicare and Social Security, far from helping any couple of the Oparowskis age or status. Even if Ted himself is a millionaire, which is possible with canny savings and investments, the idea that he and his wife Pat would endorse hardship for their fellow retirees seems a very long stretch indeed.
Of course, Paul Ryan’s baby-blues–– wide open, sincere, basically opaque but for their color — may have done the trick for Ted and Pat. Imagine sitting knee to knee with the vice-presidential candidate as he promises you the world. As he swears you yourselves will not in any way be discommoded by what the Republicans would pass if elected.
Do you let yourselves be seduced into ceding the power to make your friends and family poorer, make you and them all live closer to the bone? Do you make an attempt at actually understanding what the unspecified but yet clearly envisioned scenario will be to “lower the deficit” and “stop government spending?” Do you stop for one minute to think that perhaps balancing the budget on the backs of your friends and family may not be the fairest way to solve a gigantic problem such as the one we have?
Of course, this is all speculation and in a way deeply unfair. And yet, and yet…did Ted and Pat really “get it” the way their benefactor so clearly doesn’t?
The obverse of all this speculation is that Ted and Pat are life-long Republicans and knew instinctively their own power to persuade others of their generation that the Romney/Ryan ticket was the better one. That they were eager to help persuade the undecided. That by their own example they could help the ticket in New England at least, if not across the country.
All of which would make the appearance almost as cruel to their contemporaries as it first seemed to us it might be to them.
After watching the Democratic Convention, and listening, for example, to Elizabeth Warren tell us at length what President Obama feels, likes, believes, and wants, it occurs to us that we really don’t know what he feels, like, believes or wants. He appears, makes a speech, has an idea, and disappears. Is our knowledge of him really any greater than what we have of Romney? Can we really say that, regarding an important question of policy or action, we know what Obama will say?
Despite his wife’s sensational speech in Charlotte, do we really know the man Obama or is he, like Romney, the blank slate, even after four years, on which we project our hopes or fears?
We know what both party platforms say. We do not know whether both candidates agree with, accept part or all, dispute these documents. Platforms have not really been, in the past, that important.
They seem to be now. Because even if they are filled with abstractions, they are windows into the souls of their respective adherents. And that’s what campaigns are destined to do: help us understand the men or women for whom we vote. Which is why Bill Clinton’s speech in Charlotte was so important to Obama. The President has failed as a communicator. Mr. Clinton did his job for him, well and simply.
The President himself did his patented thing: his speech was dynamic and full of promises. But details? Nary a one. In effect, both he and Mr. Romney are saying “Trust me.” And while the US is stronger now than it was four years ago, can it continue to grow and prosper without truly new ideas and vision? And how exactly does the President expect to work with a recalcitrant Congress who will, in the main, not be happy about his re-election should it come?
After all the balloons have fallen, what do we have?
We don’t know.
This is a sort of mega-joke on us all.