Mitt Romney has been the blank space at the center of the presidential campaign.
He's a private man who's hard to get to know. He seems as uncomfortable talking about himself — and especially bragging about himself — as a politician can be and still run for national office.
During the primaries, he said he made money, "but not very much," giving speeches. His detractors jumped: Only someone as filthy rich as Mitt Romney could think $375,000 over a period of a year was "not very much." But the phrase had as much to do with Romney's instinctive modesty.
The Obama campaign has diligently worked to fill in the blanks left by Romney's reticence. The result is the perverse spectacle of a campaign of personal destruction against a man of the highest personal character.
Of all the tasks for the Romney campaign at this week's Republican convention, burnishing the personal image of the candidate should be the easiest. He is a man utterly committed to his family and his faith, whose life is studded with acts of devotion and generosity.
His foremost character witness will be his wife, Ann. The two of them have a great love story. As related in the biography by two Boston Globe reporters, "The Real Romney," Mitt fell in love with Ann practically at first sight. Attending nearby prep schools in Michigan, they went to see "The Sound of Music" on their first date. He first asked her to marry him after they had gone to prom together and she was just 16.
When he went off to college at Stanford University, he snuck back to Michigan on weekends to see Ann over the objections of his father, who worried about his grades. At one point, he sold off some of his clothes to buy a ticket see her. Off in France as a missionary, he worried constantly that she would meet someone else.
When they were married and had their boys, the cardinal rule was that the kids could never disrespect their mother. For all the energy Romney poured into his career, he never brought work home. He didn't socialize with colleagues, so he wouldn't lose time with his family.
When Ann was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the late 1990s, Mitt was "the most pained and afraid I had ever seen him," a former colleague told The New York Times. He dove into making her better, becoming a "mini expert" in the disease.
Romney's emphasis on family is grounded in his Mormonism. He has been a leader in the church since he was a young man. He has given not just his money but his time and energy. He lived his faith.
"The Real Romney" is filled with stories of Romney's quiet acts of kindness. When two sons of a Boston-area Mormon family were seriously injured in a car accident, Mitt and Ann personally delivered gifts to them on Christmas Eve, and Mitt offered to pay for their college.
When a neighbor's 12-year-old son died, Romney organized the effort to build a playground in his name and then led the clean-up crew to maintain it. When a neighbor's house caught on fire, he organized neighbors to run in and save his belongings.
Mitt Romney is literally a good neighbor. Of course, personal character isn't everything, but the real trick for the Romney campaign is to connect the candidate's personal qualities — the can-do optimism and Boy Scout's character — to his program.
Romney has been especially hesitant about talking about his faith, which is still anathema to some. But he shouldn't be shy. We will come to know Mitt Romney regardless. It will either be the distorted picture of a monster out of the world of private equity, or something closer to the truth, a man with a deep wellspring of personal decency who can be trusted with the highest office in the land.
Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and a variety of other publications. Read more reports from Rich Lowry — Click Here Now.
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