Romney and Romero


October 22, 2012 by Kate Savage

(and Ryan, and Rand)

For several months now, whenever I hear about Mitt Romney, the image of Oscar Romero creeps in my brain. Sometimes it’s just the name: say Romney and I hear a shadow whisper of Romero. Tapping around in my head together, incessantly, this Mormon CEO-politician hybrid and a liberation-preaching priest. The man who has done quite well for himself and the man who got himself gunned down for caring too much about peasants.

How do I explain myself?

There is, of course, the sad historical intersection between the two men. The sentence which can connect them is a collision of economic adventurism and revolution. Back in the 80s, Mitt wants to make money. He wants to begin a new business. He takes start-up capital from central American oligarchs, many of whom are waging anti-democratic fights in their home countries, relentless battles of bodies and ideas. It is true that all of these disputes are nuanced, and nobody is completely innocent. It is also true that the fight was largely between wealthy, European-descended plantation and mine owners on the one side against peasants and workers on the other; the Realpolitik of plantation capitalism vs. that old dogged belief that a government can work to the benefit of the majority.

Anti-democratic fights usually mean death squads. They mean the paramilitaries that killed off whole villages. 75,000 violent deaths in El Salvador. But because massacres of villages are hard to hold in our heads, we try to find ‘representatives,’ individual traumas to stand in for mass-murder. In El Salvador, this means the death-squad murder of a popular Roman Catholic priest Oscar Romero, a figurehead who was seen as giving too much psychic aid to the resistance, by preaching a gospel which saw Jesus as a campesino, and took some least-of-these scriptures a little too literally.

Romero was killed the day after he called on soldiers to be Christians instead of mercenaries, to fulfill God’s will by no longer violating the human rights of the poor. Just as he lifted the blood-of-Christ chalice at the end of Eucharist, the death squad shot him up. 250,000 people attended his funeral a week later, and were again attacked, leaving at least 31 dead.

And the people who directed this to happen, the oligarchs, then got more money for more ammunition for more political repression through savvy investment in a young, bright Mormon’s start-up. There are links between key Romney investors like the de Sola and Salaverria families and the very people commanding the death squads that killed Romero. There is evidence that Mitt was aware that there was at least a high probability that he was taking funds from disreputable sources. I could analyze these, and lay out the argument that has convinced me that he made a morally indefensible decision.

But today I don’t want to draw out a ‘six-degrees-from-Mitt-to-Oscar’ game. Today I don’t have a sharp mind, for proving facts, I only have a dull, sorrowing heart. What I need to talk about is a deeper pain, about how capitalism colonizes minds, about the itch for wealth and power that gets roped up against the quest to be Christ-like. About the pro-business morality which masks an ugly money-lust, casting any decisions which are profitable as therefore pious.


I’m told that entrepreneurs deserve the high profits they make because they take risks. I wonder about the risks that Mitt Romney made in starting up Bain Capital, and about the risks Oscar Romero took to speak his sense of truth and care.

I think about the risks of Jean Donovan, another casualty of El Salvador death squads. Before coming as a lay missionary to El Salvador, she was a successful managing consultant with Arthur Anderson. Instead of further climbing the ladder, instead of  amassing fortunes, she trashed her career and started burying the tortured corpses of another country. And then she was raped and murdered along with three nuns by death squads. Death squads which were funded by the ‘job creators’ who self-evidently deserved their strangle-hold of power over others because they took risks to become financially successful in the plantations of El Salvador and the stock exchanges of the U.S.

Jean Donovan

Jean writes this, in the last weeks of her life:

“The Peace Corps left today and my heart sank low. The danger is extreme and they were right to leave… Now I must assess my own position, because I am not up for suicide. Several times I have decided to leave El Salvador. I almost could, except for the children, the poor, bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them? Whose heart could be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and loneliness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine.”

And two weeks before he died, Oscar Romero said this: “I am bound, as a pastor, by divine command to give my life for those whom I love, and that is all Salvadoreans, even those who are going to kill me.”

As Jean herself says, this is not “the reasonable thing.” We could fashion our own fantasy debate: on one side these two and on the other the patron saint of “reasonableness,” Ayn Rand, whom Paul Ryan has touted as the best proponent of “the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism.”

Ayn Rand’s (and arguably Paul Ryan’s) moral code is best summed up in The Virtue of Selfishness, where she explains:

“The virtue of Pride [. . .] means one’s rejection of the role of a sacrificial animal, the rejection of any doctrine that preaches self-immolation as a moral virtue or duty. [. . .] Just as life is an end in itself, so every living human being is an end in himself, not the means to the ends or the welfare of others—and, therefore, that man must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. To live for his own sake means that the achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose.”

As a woman from a conventional upbringing, where I’ve had to do learn a bit of pride in order to have space to do my own projects rather than constantly housewife others, of course I can feel a certain power in Rand’s words. But the difficulty is with the unnoticed rapidity with which we can mutter off that one little phrase in the quote — “nor sacrificing others to himself.” Rand’s ideology is based on a dream that we could just escape from a gift economy, scott-free. That we can cleanly amputate our individual self out from any obligation to others or infringement on them.

In the divisively analytic gaze of Ayn Rand, in the morality of capitalism expounded by the GOP and many Democrats, we’re easily separable and independent of the women who birth us and families that raise us, communities that educate us and give us meaningful activity, all the beings caring for us when we’re too young or old or wounded to do it ourselves, not to mention the workers the world over who provide for us, and the whole web of life that’s a stable ecosystem.

With this view, one wouldn’t ever suspect that a person can’t even do his little individualist task of building a personal fortune without the risk of sacrificing others to it.

None of this is an argument. I’m not clever enough right now for an argument. I only want to begin wondering if the Romney/Ryan “morality of individualism” is based on an ironically mutilated individuality, one which can only form depressing and small individuals, incapable of taking the risks of love and care required by a respect for the just-as-miraculous individuality of all the others around us. Even political responsibility, even economic responsibility. And even for — as the unreasonable Jean Donovan puts it — the “bruised victims of this insanity”.

18 thoughts on “Romney and Romero

  1. Forest Simmons says:

    I was hoping that you were going to say that Romero started out like Romney on the side of the oligarchs, but when his eyes were opened to the human rights abuses, he switched sides. If Saul of Tarsis, Alma the Younger, and Romero could repent, then perhaps there is hope for Romney.

    But let him repent BEFORE gettinig elected!

  2. Kate says:

    SO good Katy. Thanks for writing, sharing, being.

  3. james stewart says:

    So poignant, so well said. “What I need to talk about is a deeper pain, about how capitalism colonizes minds, about the itch for wealth and power that gets roped up against the quest to be Christ-like. About the pro-business morality which masks an ugly money-lust, casting any decisions which are profitable as therefore pious.”

    It is always surprising that what seems like the majority of LDS folks tout Rand’s principle of “the achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose,” when it seems so far from the gospel of Jesus!

  4. seedofjapheth says:

    Romney and Obama both serve the interests of capitalism. Both are also imperialist.

  5. When I first started reading your article I thought you were going to tell the tale of two religious men getting gunned down in office for trying to fix a broken system. I don’t know why anyone would want to be President of a country in such financial distress. Whoever takes the reins is most likely going to watch as this nation crumbles and ultimately he’ll be sacrificed for not being able to stop the unstoppable. That’s my gut feeling.

  6. LDSDPer says:

    This is well done. I am awash (in my ward/family) in a sea of Romney-ites–

    so I’ve spent the past several months trying to find everything I can about Romney–

    the “truth” about Romney–(not the sanitized version of how many ward and stake members he has helped; I’ve heard the ‘other’ stories there, too–of how he treated poorer people in his stake with disdain and gave great privileges to the wealthier people)

    I have read similar things about his involvements with South/Central American ‘funds’–

    and wondered and wondered, and this is so well done–

    I have read other things about the man as well, and I ‘fear’ that he will be like the rich man, once in heaven–

    but the named beggar (maybe the priest) . . .–

    will not be able to help him–

    Why would Romney repent, though? He is ‘seen’ as the ultimate Mormon man–
    I think I feel sorry for him. I am not a Democrat, and I won’t be voting for Obama (I’m not a Republican either; I am a nothing American who has given up on having a ‘voice’)–

    but I think there is more hope for Obama–


    I fear both men have sold their souls–

    Obama promised to bring the troops home; why did he make that promise only to break it?

    And he was right there with Bush bailing out those big banks–

    I’ve said enough–

    Thank you for a beautiful piece of writing–

    • Forest Simmons says:

      … and protecting the torturers and other war criminals from prosecution …

      Many people say to stay home rather than show support for the corrupt system by voting, but In the state of Oregon, Rocky Anderson (former SLC mayor) is on the ballot as the presidential candidate of the Justice Party. We’re voting for him.

      We vote by mail in Oregon so the Republican owned and operated voting machines are not used. If you vote where they are used, your vote may count for Romney no matter for whom you cast your ballot.

    • james stewart says:

      Forest/LDSDPer, I completely agree with your sentiments. I also was planning to cast a vote for a third party. I read this plea from Daniel Ellsberg that gave me pause:

      While Obama is guilty of much, and both are Wall Street and War candidates, there is yet some difference. As Ellsberg points out, “My answer was: a Romney/Ryan administration would…be much worse, even catastrophically worse, on a number of other important issues: attacking Iran, Supreme Court appointments, the economy, women’s reproductive rights, health coverage, safety net, climate change, green energy, the environment.” Those things are important to me, and I guess I do still believe there are some significant differences between mainstream candidates as is pointed out in this article. Still not sure to vote with ideals or pragmatism…

  7. Mark Schulthies says:

    Certainly, you have to take care of yourself in order to be in a position to care for others. The question remains: Where is that line? If you except the life of Christ as an example, then you should recognize that He made money (as carpenter logically) and devoted himself to caring for his person and assuring that His family was cared for. Then, when His ministry started He still divided His ‘selfish’ concerns with those “self-less” efforts which the scriptures give emphesis. Such is the system in the LDS church. It is therefore true that people that have ‘taken care of themselves’ can be in the position to ‘care for others’. Christ didn’t do very much materially for people by providing food, shelter, and employment because he was born into a situation that does not. So, do we judge Christ harshly for not being a better provider or materially aiding humanity when he had the potential to do so? No, we do not. And what about if Christ built something for an evil man and profited by his work? Would then Christ be culpable and have transgressed the law by somehow benefitting himself by an enterprise that we as fallible humans deem ‘unchristlike’? For the bulk of Christ’s life we do not know what he did or who he did it for to make a living – if we knew would it make a difference in Christ being The Christ or just how we feel? Romney does have a record of ill-gotten wealth and has done much good with it – but it’s our own opinion if the line he drew in his life was in error. But in the meantime, I can’t help being offended by Romney in his attitude and his business dealings. I suppose someone, somewhere could have the same condemation of me. Again, Christ is our judge.

  8. Forest Simmons says:

    Ayn Rand’s philosophy, which she called “objectivism” is nothing more or less than Social Darwinism, the same philosophy that Margaret Thatcher expounded when speaking at BYU after a flattering introduction by President Hinckley, who was a great admirer of both Thatcher and her twin brother Ronald Reagan.

    Social Darwinism is the belief that survival of the fittest is just as cool in human society as it is in the jungle, where it maintains a natural equilibrium. The weak perish, the strong survive, and that is as it should be.

    Reagan was not as draconian as Thatcher. It took a Democrat William Jefferson Clinton to Thatcherize “welfare as we know it” in the USA. Subsequent presidents have done nothing to soften the blow, despite the increased difficulty of surviving in the worsening economy.

  9. Thomas Freeman says:

    If only Romney were a capitalist! Saying Romney is a capitalist is about the same as saying Christians are Jews. The Corporatism he practices may “incorporate” a couple similarities with Capitalism just as the early Christians had some similar religious practices with Jews.

    While Ayn Rand’s objectivism isn’t perfect, her argument of not “sacrificing [oneself] to the ends or the welfare of others” is a beautiful ideology. This philosophy doesn’t mean that there cannot exist an exchange market of gifts. If a community has provided gifts or benefits to us, we should return the favor. This is the wonderful argument for fair trade and exchange rather than servitude or sacrifice. Under Rand’s philosophy, we would offer exchange with our community!

    However, too many confuse community with government, which is nothing more than a corporation. Just because this corporation slaps “federal government” on its buildings and propaganda materials, doesn’t mean its corporate status has disappeared. I assume many are willing to sacrifice money, blood, and even life itself to this corporation as long as it doesn’t put “Inc.” at the end of its name.

    • james stewart says:

      “her argument of not “sacrificing [oneself] to the ends or the welfare of others” is a beautiful ideology” yeah, i’m pretty sure jesus said the same thing!

      this “beautiful ideology” that you express is a mockery of the atonement and the doctrine of Zion and certainly has no support from any scripture. you’re thought of benevolent capitalism is a tragic fallacy that is one of the adversary’s great lies. life is not about a market, money, or exchange.

      why is ayn rand this prophetess of the conservative right? she was an atheist, privileged, supported abortion, gay rights, called Arabs savages, drug abuser with a vendetta for revolutionaries after being a “bourgeois” target of revolutionaries in russia. (okay, i realize that list kind of describes rush limbaugh–but seriously why rand?)

      • tariq says:

        Why Rand? Because she makes conservative callousness seem like a transcendent cause rather than just plain old crass greed. It’s the same reason why captains of industry in the Gilded Age/Progressive Era subscribed to social Darwinism.

  10. Thanks for this article Kate. I just came across it. Very powerful.

  11. zerno says:

    Your thoughts bring about being able to see the contrast between the simple truth of God as it becomes humanized by mans reasoning that is always self motivated.

    The world situation is so complicated by the various reasoning methods used by men trying to jockey for power & wealth & justifying God’s Blessings upon those endevours. It gets more obscure and exponentially crazy each day. I dream for the day that simple truth will be the measure of our lives, when the wheat are separated from the tares.

  12. Zerno that’s why I like hymn #58 so much. I yearn for that day too.

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