Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the US.
Paul Ryan is a little bit rich. That’s like being a little bit pregnant, and we all know Ryan’s stand on pregnancy. Just as Ryan thinks life begins at conception, I think wealth begins at trust fund.
I am fully aware that one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was a college education without debt. I am a faculty brat. From 1988-1992, I attended Northwestern University for a fraction of the tuition when my father joined the faculty in 1968. As a result, I got to study abroad for a full year on the program of my choice and enter marriage not only multilingual but also debt free. My husband brought no debt to our marriage thanks to the universal university education then promised every English subject of academic ability. We were and are the lucky ones. We appreciate our good fortune.
Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney seem to have forgotten the blessings accrued them by birth. Ryan’s grandfather’s and Romney’s father’s wealth mean that neither man had to sign away his future in order to pay for his educational present (pun intended). When disaster struck, and Ryan’s father died, wealth accumulated long before his birth was able to carry him through the crisis that might have brought his family to financial ruin. It may not have been the Romney’s mega-millions, but it provided a cushion for an existential blow. That is what trust funds do. They protect their recipients from the twists and turns of fate that otherwise buffett us on life’s stormy seas. They create trust in a secure future – a personal safety net.
Romney and Ryan both have trust funds. Ryan added his wife’s to his own when he married. These men can deride the social safety net, because – whether or not they avail themselves of it – they don’t need it. When Ryan drove the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, he did so as a tourist among the working class. Poor Romney can’t even figure out how to pass a weekend among men and women who work with their hands.
Ironically, the closest either Republican scion came to children who had to pay their own way into the professional class was in that so-called bastion of elitism, college. Romney briefly rubbed elbows with ordinary Mormons at Brigham Young University. Ryan crossed the midwest to attend Ohio’s state run liberal arts college, Miami University. Much has been made of Ryan’s intellectual leadership. From what I can discern, he fulfilled requirements for two majors but neither achieved greek honors based upon his grades nor earned election to Phi Beta Kappa as testament to the breadth and depth of his achievements in the liberal arts and sciences. In short, he failed to take full advantage of the educational resources offered him.
What both Ryan and Romney capitalized upon – literally and metaphorically – were the opportunities for networking among the elite embedded within institutions of higher education. Ryan pledged a fraternity – the best way to facilitate friendships among those of like minds and similar social strata within an otherwise diverse institution. Romney must have found too few wealthy hands to shake at Brigham Young, because he finished the job at that bastion of backroom brokerage, the Harvard School of Business.
When Romney issued the patronizing claim, “corporations are people, my friend,” he meant that corporations consist of people who are his friends. This is the lesson Ryan and Romney drew from their educations. Trust funds allow you to focus on your friends. Put in another pearl of Romney wisdom, “borrow money – if you have to – from your parents.” That loan need not stop at money. A wealthy parent, grandparent, or spouse can also loan you influential friends to pave your way to wealth and power.
This is why my favorite pundit, John Heilemann, failed to predict Ryan as Romney’s running mate. He thought Romney would want to secure Ohio with Senator Rob Portman. Romney did want to secure Ohio. By selecting Ryan, he got a ‘twofer.’ Ryan brought a strong network of Ohio connections forged in his fraternity as well as his Wisconsin constituents. That out-of-state tuition may have been the wisest investment Ryan ever made.
This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed