Sunday, November 20, 2011

Some Guy I Met at a Game One Night

In the winter of 2004, it was my Herald duty one Friday evening to cover a Celtics game. Taking my end line press row seat, I for once recognized the fan seated next to me as near to the basket as the NBA allows. It was Mitt Romney, Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

This wasn't too surprising. Every Mormon I've ever met has been nuts for basketball, and I also knew Romney and Danny Ainge were friendly. Since I believe that off-duty pols have the same rights as off-duty sportwriters, I left Romney to watch the Celtics lose in peace. I did ponder how to encourage the Governor to leave his seat before Lucky the Leprechaun's acrobatics exhibition at the end of the third quarter, because God forbid something should go wrong that I'D have to cover. Even the headline "UNLUCKY!! Mascot Mashes Mitt!!" wouldn't have been worth about a 38-hour workday.

As I contemplated the etiquette governing gubernatorial safety, the other fans seated in the floor area of the Garden were not as considerate of Romney's privacy. During breaks in play, one or two would come over to Romney's seat to offer good wishes. They unanimously told him he was a swell guy doing a great job. Given the price of a Garden floor seat, that area of the state skews Republican.

This was when Romney did something I thought no pol ever could. He astonished me. Romney responded to the well-wishers by blowing them off. A tight grin, a nod, and no words were his responses. He followed these gestures by stating to ME, the total stranger who worked for a newspaper, that a) many of these well-wishers had been drinking and b) they'd turn on him in a heartbeat.

Romney's observations were true, of course. But they were also shocking. As an iron rule, pols love well-wishers and dote on those who praise them. It's a natural sentiment for anyone in a trade that draws such abuse. And above all, pols never, ever say or even imply that voters, any voters, are not the salt of the earth who contain the wisdom of the ages in each grain of salt. And if do say or imply it, it's to each other, not to an outsider.

In the same situation, basketball fan Barack Obama would have engaged the fans in lengthy conversations about Celtics' games of 1982. Basketball fan Bill Clinton would have made me give the first fan my seat so that Clinton could make the guy his newest BFF instead of watching the game. Noted misanthrope Richard Nixon would not have reacted as Romney did. It was antipolitical behavior.

I did not write about this at the time because, well, who cared? Certainly not the Herald sports department, or even me, really. But now Romney has a fine chance of being the next President of the United States, and under the rules of running for that office, any episode in Romney's life up to and including his driver's test for his first license is information that belongs in the public domain.

I will go no further than to say my little anecdote is excellent evidence that Mitt Romney is not like other politicians, as he lacks a common personality trait of the species. Whether the lack of that trait makes Romney a man of intellectual honesty who'll scorn mere popularity if his cause is just or a cynical S.O.B. who doesn't have much use for people once they can't help him, who knows? That's for the electorate to decide.

Judging from public opinion polls, a working majority of Republican voters have their suspicions on the question.


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