Moments before a jeans-clad Mitt Romney strode into a garage bay at a Roxbury truck repair company, a campaign aide carefully wiped grit from a tool chest slated to share the spotlight with the candidate.
Too much reality spoils a good picture. Just as his campaign put a gloss on the tool chest, Romney put a gloss on the truth about Middlesex Truck & Coach.
“This is not the result of government,” he declared. “This is the result of people who take risk, who have dreams, who build for themselves and for their families.”
Yet owner Brian Maloney acknowledged that his business did receive some government help, via a low-interest loan given for new development and start-ups. “The only way I was able to come here, because I had no money, was with an industrial-revenue bond,” Maloney told Jon Keller of WBZ-TV.
The Globe also reported that in his first year at the Crosstown Industrial Park, Maloney’s company accepted a $560,000 federal government contract to overhaul 10 buses. Google Middlesex Truck & Coach and it is still identified as “a US government contractor company.”
That does not negate Maloney’s risk, hard work, or dreams. But it does challenge his assertion at the Romney event that “we don’t need any more of government’s help. We haven’t had any. We’ve only had pain. It’s over-bearing. It’s top-heavy.”
Romney primarily used the Roxbury event to continue his attack on President Obama’s bumbled declaration that, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
Stealing a riff from Democratic senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren, Obama was trying to say that private success generally intersects with public investment, such as taxpayer-funded roads, schools, police, and fire protection. Instead, he expressed his thoughts as awkwardly as Romney did when the Republican said he wasn’t very concerned about the very poor.
Live by the gaffe, and die by it. With the presidential campaign locked in a virtual tie, that is the theme of 2012. Each side is determined to use any mistake against his rival.
Obama’s words fired up business owners who resent any suggestion that government helps them — even when it does. It’s a common point of disagreement between conservatives and liberals.
After Joe Lieberman poked fun at Dick Cheney during their 2000 vice presidential debate for making millions at the helm of the Halliburton oil services company, Cheney replied: “I can tell you, Joe, that the government had absolutely nothing to do with it” — ignoring the fact that Halliburton was a leading US defense contractor and benefited from financial guarantees granted by US agencies that promote exports.
In similar fashion, Romney is ignoring government’s role not just at Middlesex Truck & Coach, but in developing Crosstown Industrial Park, the neighborhood in which Maloney’s company is located. Government, in partnership with local bankers, has been slowly turning around an area that Romney once said was too crime-ridden for him to consider as a business site.
Before he arrived for his Roxbury photo-op, BuzzFeed dredged up a Romney quote from 1994, when he was running against Senator Edward M. Kennedy. In an interview with the Brockton Enterprise, Romney was asked his thoughts about relocating Bain Capital to a poor, urban setting. “We never think of going to Roxbury or Dorchester,” he said back then. “Why do we never think about it? Crime.”
During that 1994 campaign, Romney also started referring to blighted, inner city neighborhoods as “Kennedy country.” As he told the story back then, Romney was confronted by a Kennedy supporter in Dorchester, who told him the neighborhood was “Kennedy country.” In response, Romney said, “I looked around and saw boarded-up buildings and I saw jobs leaving and I said, ‘It looks like it.’ ”
Now as a presidential candidate, Romney said he would encourage businesses to relocate to areas like Roxbury. If that’s true, it’s because local government did not turn its back on “Kennedy country.” It stuck with people who are willing to take risk and work hard to fulfill their dreams, business by business.
But truth is not what Romney is selling. In his campaign, tool chests aren’t grimy and government is something to be Photoshopped out of the picture.
Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter@Joan_Vennochi.