I know that the Bill Burton/Joe Soptic “Mitt Romney Killed My Wife!” ad is growing distant in the nation’s rearview mirror, but it brought us a revelatory moment that we should not forget.
In the ad, laid-off union man Joe Soptic accuses Mitt Romney of being indifferent to suffering and destroying Soptic’s employer. That cost Soptic his health insurance, and ultimately his wife, who died of cancer. So the accusations are: Mitt Romney killed Joe Soptic’s job, which resulted in the death of Mrs. Soptic. Fade to black.
The ad manages to get every single relevant fact wrong. Here’s the timeline: In 1993, Mitt Romney was head of Bain Capital, and that company became majority owner of Soptic’s employer, GST Steel. Bain bought into GST to try to save it, as it did with other struggling companies. Romney left Bain in 1999 to save the Salt Lake City Olympics. Two years after Romney left Bain, in February 2001, GST filed for bankruptcy and Soptic was among the 750 who lost their jobs as a result. A full five years after that, Soptic’s wife was diagnosed with late-stage cancer and she passed away.
Soptic’s story is a sad one, but not uncommon. In real life, our problems don’t get solved in a half-hour sitcom format and there aren’t all that many stories that end happily. We live, we work, we raise our families, we experience delights and tragedies, we pass on and are largely forgotten on this earth. Believers point to a brighter day on the other side of our last “amen,” while life on this earth remains a hardscrabble thing for most of us worrying about that next bill or how we’re ever going to be able to afford to retire. Life is often cruel and unfair. But to blame Mitt Romney for any of what happened to Joe Soptic is either delusional or dishonest to the point of sociopathy.
It’s one thing for political operatives to shade the truth to gussy up their party or their policy case. It’s never a good thing, but it happens all the time. But Joe Soptic is no political operative. He is just an ordinary man, or was. For an ordinary man to blame the death of his wife on another man who bears no culpability and who has done Soptic no wrong is bizarre. But grief makes us do weird things sometimes. Festering rage and the unfairness of life can turn the straightest arrow a little crooked.
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