The old Jewish parable tells of the man who had put all his assets together and bought a few diamonds at wholesale. They were in his right-hand pocket as he walked to the port to catch a ship bringing him to a marketplace where he could realize huge profits from his jewels. On the way, he was accosted by two people, one poor, one rich. They pointed out that the weight in his pocket was making him walk crookedly, calling the attention of thieves to his stash. The poor one suggested he move half into the left-hand pocket. The rich dude says, “Nah, take some valueless stones of equal weight and put them on your left to even things out.” The pauper’s advice was simpler, but the man decided to follow the one who had been more successful in his own dealings.
Later, on board the ship, a sudden squall threatened to sink them. The captain announced that it was necessary to throw off ballast, so each passenger must throw half their carry-on baggage into the sea. Having followed the wealthy person’s advice, our hero was able to jettison the junk stones as jetsam and keep the precious ones for himself.
The moral of the story is that success is not always strictly logical, but it is contagious. Better to hitch your star to a winner with a track record than to the one who maps out a rational path to the top but whose shoes keep slipping off the rungs. This is part of why I was glad to hear that Mitt Romney is worth about a quarter of a billion dollars. (Here is a guy who can actually afford polygamy and they make him renounce it; where’s the justice?)
In truth, that news encourages me for more substantive reasons than the magic of prior conquests. Romney has shown himself to be a brilliant leader and manager in the course of those triumphant trials. While the capital corporation he ran is not transparent enough for us as business laymen to judge, we can assess his terms as head of the Slat Lake City Olympics of 2002 and as Governor of Massachusetts. In each case, he took a difficult conglomerate structure and made its parts work more smoothly than in the past
The Olympics, in particular, indicate an ability to fix something broken, a skill rare among politicos. The planning committee had already been tainted by resignations of key executives caught on the take. It was also marred by incompetence and indolence. Half the people were taking long naps and the other half were taking lagniappes. Mitt stepped in and kicked it into high gear. In the largest urban center (population: 1,500,000) ever to host a Winter Olympiad, things went off without a hitch. The operation, running in the red before Mitt’s catch, turned a nice profit, making him look like a handsome prophet himself.
Funny thing. When Ross Perot ran, the fact that he generated two billion dollars out of his own ingenuity was said to recommend him for leadership. Kerry’s marrying into a piece of a billion dollars was not disdained as crass opportunism (although it is). Only Republicans, it seems, must apologize for having expanded their bank accounts, no matter how much ability and hard work was invested in that effort.
And you know what? I have been looking for a real-life rich Republican for years. Since Senator Heinz passed away and ceded his fortune to the Democrat clutches of John Kerry, I cannot think of a single famous person of wealth in this country who is a Republican. The Dems get to call the GOP the party of the well-heeled, while they are the heels who go to the well again and again. But from Gates to Buffett to Soros to that wacky Pritzker woman, from Spielberg to Geffen to Winfrey, it seems like any person associated with affluence in this country also emits a Democrat effluvium. It is thrilling to finally meet a rich Republican in the flesh.
There is one more argument from Jewish tradition for electing a wealthy leader. By Talmudic law, the person elected as High Priest had to be handsome, well-educated, of high character and well-to-do. If one had the first three attributes but did not have a pocketbook to match, he was chosen anyway, and a special one-time tax was assessed to grant him wealth. The idea was that he be beyond the dreams of avarice, not vulnerable to being tempted by bribery.
Neither this magazine nor I have endorsed any candidate in the Republican primaries, but when I do decide how to cast my vote, it will be for the guy who is least a zero… not for the one with the least zeroes in his bank account.