Editor’s Note: This is a new piece by contributor Brandon Melendez on the idea of what it means to be a Self-Made Man. The term used in the piece aaliyah means”moving to Israel” -M.P.
The Self Made Man
by Brandon Melendez
With the Republican presidential nomination all squared away the media will now spend it’s time running their corporately sponsored political agenda behind either one of the candidates in full fervor—as if the previous fervor had not been enough for people already weary of the 2012 election before it ever got actually started. This tends to be done through pundits, editorials, and talk radio—and eventually, official endorsement. Here in New York we can certainly expect The New York Times and The Daily News to stand perfectly in Mr. Obama’s shadow like Tetris Pieces made just for the task, and likewise the Fox-owned New York Post with embrace Mr. Romney like a lover after a long absence.
Once endorsement has been served the unofficial lobbying and free advertisement will turn into 24/7 fist pumping and table banging for their chosen candidate—up to and including biography specials, retrospectives, “talk panels”, credential laudings (or smearing); you name it, they’ll do it. That’s how cowardly the mainstream media is—I understand it and expect it. After a short time the constituents will start to parrot back the things they’ve been hearing, reading, and seeing. Due to this I can tolerate their exaggeration of the truth in these mimicking factoid spew sessions, but even before the official nomination I heard rumblings in the media and from loyal red voters of a particular piece of the Romney mythos that I cannot stomach: the assertion that W. Mitt Romney is a self-made man.
Allow me to tell you why…
At the age of twenty-five my Grandfather came to this country with nothing but the shirt on his back and the languages he spoke—none of which were English. After an adolescence spent running, literally, through the snow and blood drenched mud of Europe from the terrible threat of Nazi fueled death led by my great-grandfather he had learned to speak his native Polish and Yiddish, as well as Russian and German. Russian he learned, obviously enough, in Russia where his father, Machel, had taken the family at the very moment he heard that the Germans were “rounding Jewish people up for work”. All he heard was “Germans rounding Jews up” and he knew the score. After several years in Russia working under communism the war ended and my family returned to their native Lodz to find nothing. Everyone was gone. Scarce records remained and that was about it. The Cederbaum family left from Lodz and never would another one of them return until my grandfather summoned the strength to some seven decades later.
He came to this country, landed a job as a mechanic in a shop—a skill that he had picked up, in part, as a farmer in the USSR—and through listening and staring at the newspaper Joseph Ceder (his name now Americanized) learned English. In time he met a nice American Jewish girl in Lillian Dasheff and they were married. My grandparents had two children, Steven (now Shaul) and Cheryl-Ann (now Cheryl), my mother. My grandfather had switched from mechanic to photographer, and then lithographer and television repairman. My grandparents were able to scrape together the money to buy a house in the beach resort town of Rockaway and moved south from the Bronx.
My mother and uncle grew older. My uncle became an accountant, then become orthodox and made his aaliyah(move) to Jerusalem. My mother remained in New York, met my father and had me in 1984. By this time my grandfather had left the lithography business to start his own Sewer and Drainage company. They had left their small house in Rockaway and had bought a mother/daughter in Bayswater, Far Rockaway. After several years of sweat and labor the mortgage was burned, my grandfather hired a worker, and business booming. They say the only things you can’t avoid are death and taxes but guess what? Everyone uses the toilet too. That house in Far Rockaway is the house I grew up in. I lived there from when I was 2 until I was 25, at which time I was married and had a son on the way. My mother and younger cousin live there with him now.
My grandfather came to this country with nothing in his pockets, only with hands willing to work and a mind willing to make it happen. Already a grandfather of six children he discovered, along with his talent in all the other professions he had mastered almost through osmosis, in 1994 that he was a talented writer. He wrote his memoir chronicling his life before America in verse and prose, and became an avid letter writer to political figures and editors across not only the nation, but the world. His voice on paper now was a tool as much as his screwdriver.
My grandfather owes no man a single dime and has supported his children and his children’s children, and even now lends support to his children’s children’s children at the age of 86. He still works every day. Perhaps because he loves his work, or perhaps because work is what he does. Regardless to say, in this country he has made himself into the American Dream. I won’t even hold it against him that his votes are red and elephant through and through because everyone is entitled to their perspective and, well, dammit it makes for great conversation. As it turns out he’s beating for the challenger to the incumbent in the 2012 race, and though I know he’s reading this proudly, he may not appreciate this next turn in my narrative.
My Grandfather is a self-made man. Mr. Romney is not.
Talk that W. Mitt Romney, the son of Governor George Romney, the millionaire, is a self-made man is the most disingenuous thing I can think of to say in regard to the American Dream. I will acquiesce several things to Governor Romney (the second) off the bat: he is an intelligent man, he is a sharp business man, he has held executive position, he has a strong family, his religion is none of my business. He is not a self-made man.
Some may argue as to whether self-made men exist at all, and to them I say that if you can engineer your own downfall, you can engineer your own ascension—arguments that somehow point fingers at the ground work laid by our society are, for me, moot. Of course other people and the efforts of government and companies play a role in our rise—we don’t make our own clothes, shoot deer and make jerky of it using weapons we made from trees struck by lightning. Nobody is that self-made anymore. Not in America. So the term exists for me on a sliding scale.
Governor Romney has two graduate degrees from Harvard—and while it speaks volumes of his intelligence—it also speaks volumes of his financial backing. His family paid for him to go there. I also went to a world class, world famous University for my graduate degree. I will be paying for it for the next 30 years, probably while concurrently paying for my children’s undergraduate work. I don’t begrudge him this, but I refuse to accept that he is self-made. Mr. Romney was able to work for a year in his father’s administration, and for a year before that in his campaign for free, gaining invaluable political experience and networks—a smart move that could only be made by someone who had no worries pertaining to their next meal’s source.
His company, a great financial success, allowed Governor Romney to donate the totality of his enormous inheritance from his father’s fortune to charity. A wonderful and gracious act, certainly, and very Christian of him, but this does not make him a self-made man. His safety net, his backing, and his financial support allowed him great opportunity to make choices and go places that self-made men, like my grandfather whose formal education stopped at the age of 11 due to life-and-death circumstances, would never have—though they would work their lives to provide for their progeny. Governor Romney helped build many great American franchises, and is indeed, a worthy holder of the Republican Candidacy if any would be. He has both the business and executive background to ride the red elephant according to their own criterion; but self-made? Hardly. He’s always had it all, and the fact that he was able to use it all, to make his own is not wrong. Its smart, and its proactive. He built his own thing…but it is built on a high foundation.
I won’t knock people for following republican ideology, or democratic ones for that matter, because this discourse is the heart of our political system—or at least it should be. We aren’t supposed to agree, we are supposed to debate, weigh, compromise, and unite despite our perspectives for the greater good. Even though that doesn’t really happen in today’s climate, I still don’t begrudge the differences in people’s perspectives, ideologies, or circumstances of birth. I will be perfectly clear: I do not care that Mitt Romney was born into a wealthy family. Most politicians become rich by the time they reach the higher levels of power, somehow (a topic for another day), despite their political inclinations. It takes money and privilege to be groomed through the American political machine and make your way to the top and somebody is gonna foot the bill—if it’s your family or your party doesn’t really matter to me.
But the notion that the son of a millionaire can be a self-made man? When he is backed by both the networks of money and of government? I can’t abide by that. Not when I know a self-made man and he really made everything that he has, and built from the figurative ether.
So conservative media and populace, if you’re gonna beat for Romney beat away. Do so with vigor and do it with all your heart. It’s your God given right, but please beat it on another drum because the “self-made” one plays off-beat.