I’m delighted today to have a guest post from my friend, Josh Good:
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In their inboxes a few weeks ago, millions of Romney supporters discovered A Love Letter to Mitt — an “anniversary gift” written, apparently, from Ann Romney to her husband. Her short note included a 3-minute interview in which Mrs. Romney reflects on her early courtship with the man who still holds a strong lead in the GOP delegate count and is widely expected to capture the Republican presidential nomination in June.
At the very least, Mrs. Romney’s note seemed oddly packaged: if this was really a love letter to Mitt (“I love you, Sweetheart,” her note reads…), why are we its recipients?
One imagines campaign consultants helped facilitate the communiqué, in which Mrs. Romney describes Mitt’s pursuant vitality and “love of life” in his younger years, as well as a collection of letters they traded while he spent more than two years on Mormon mission in France. In fact, her on-camera reflections are quite compelling; like past candidate wives, Ann has a real ability to endear the public to her man — so this is smart politics. Drawing upon a montage of old envelopes and photos, she invites viewers into her four-year courtship with the GOP front-runner, leading up to their wedding on March 21st, 1969.
The couple’s marriage has staying power, as their friends all say Mitt’s 43-year marriage to Ann offered real stability at home throughout his well-known career. Their marriage has sustained not only five children (and today, 16 grandchildren), but also Mitt’s dual graduate degrees from Harvard, a career at Bain Capital, Ann’s 1998 diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, the Salt Lake City Olympic Games, and a Republican governorship in a Left-leaning state.
But in the race for the White House, should the Romneys’ marriage really matter to voters?
It should — in spite of the fact that, after Clinton, Nixon and Kennedy, it has become popular for some Americans to fully separate a leader’s public life from private affairs like family life. What happens behind closed doors should remain private, we are told; what matters is a person’s public life, his speechmaking and leadership.
But as Harry Truman famously said, “if a man will break his oath of marriage, he’ll break his oath of office.” Family life reveals a person’s inner commitments, demonstrating character over time. The American presidency today — perhaps more than ever — requires tremendous interpersonal and relational strengths, personal integrity, selflessness, and an ability to maintain one’s inner compass while managing multiple priorities. These are all traits a successful marriage helps encourage.
Interestingly, the Romneys’ 43-year marriage ties Ann and Mitt with the longest-married presidential couple in US history: Barbara and George H.W. Bush, who married in 1945, 43 years before the 1988 election. And though more than two decades younger than the Romneys, Rick and Karen Santorum’s 1990 marriage—which has endured the loss of a child and currently supports a daughter with Trisomy 18—appeals to many voters for these same reasons. The Obamas’ 1992 marriage does too.
Private lives do matter, and while the nation’s still-struggling economy means that presidential contenders are likely to spend more time on the campaign trail discussing the free market system and differing job-creation approaches, family life and convictions about marriage do matter. A president cannot fix every social problem, but he can demonstrate leadership by example in areas that have tremendous economic and social impact on our country.
Marriage in America is in a state of crisis: the most recent Census marked the first time in US history when more children were born out-of-wedlock to women under age 30 than not. In far too many of our communities, father-absence has become a pandemic of enormous proportions: over half of Hispanic children today are born to single moms, and nearly three in four African-American children are born to unmarried mothers.
While the Romneys’ 43-year marriage is no cure-all for inter-generational family break-up, Ann should keep talking. We need smart policies incentivizing father-presence and two-parent families, as well as good role models — and long marriages matter.
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Josh Good is a senior consultant who works with faith-based organizations and public policy think tanks in Washington, DC. He has degrees in religion and history from Covenant College, Oxford University and Harvard University.