You can probably imagine what went through Mitt Romney’s mind at the moment his tormented son revealed this impulse. No doubt he would have tried to learn all that he could about the phenomenon. He would have talked to other parents who had had similar experiences—who had entertained suspicions that one of their children might have Democratic tendencies. That might have helped. Nevertheless, the conversation between father and son would most likely have been personal and painful. Mitt certainly would have explained to Tagg how a party affiliation can define you. He might even have touched upon science, and explained that we are all made up of millions of invisible doodads that make us human and also are responsible for that stem-cell thing—and for how we choose our leaders. Then he would have told Tagg that a party tie is not something that one is born with. Rather, belonging to a party is a matter of choice—a choice that people make when they are mature adults and are no longer guided by the whims of the little people we call children or the frantic people we call adolescents.
Of course, Mitt must also have said that he would respect whatever commitment Tagg made, because he loved him—that nothing his son did to affiliate himself with a political party consisting almost entirely of avowed Democrats would ever change that. But he would have reminded Tagg, yet again, that we do have free will and that a person’s political orientation is a result of the decisions he or she makes. That is undoubtedly why Mitt Romney is a Republican and why almost everyone he knows is a Republican.
Perhaps Mitt also told Tagg that one should practice tolerance. After all, he might have said, Ronald Reagan was once a Democrat and Norman Podhoretz was once a Democrat, too, and people like Reagan and Podhoretz might not have made their choices if they’d been victims of anti-Democratic prejudice. Yet they did reveal their preferences—what must have seemed to them difficult adjustments. Mitt might have added that many of his own friends—apparently staunch Republican friends—may indeed have Democratic inclinations and predilections that they manage to keep in check despite nagging urges and the seductive rhetoric of Democrats like John Edwards, who seem to enjoy talking about people who have no health care because they weren’t born in France.
But, when Mitt and Tagg finally sat down to talk honestly about Tagg’s problem, Mitt would have had to point out what those who take a different life path discover: that when you choose to be a Democrat you are also deciding to adopt a different life style, one that will lead to your becoming Democratic in your outlook. The next step—the unavoidable step—is that you begin to spend more time with Democrats, sometimes on an intimate basis, and eventually you end up raising your children in a household of Democrats. It is not just about you, Tagg, he surely said.
Of course, Mitt would also tell Tagg that we are all God’s children and that one should not hate Democrats—hate the party, not the party member. He would explain that he is personally offended by the way Democrats live their lives and by their perverse fondness for taxes, but he doesn’t oppose their right to live any way they wish. He would emphasize, however, the unhappy truth—as Tagg will learn—which is that Democrats aren’t like ordinary Americans. That knowledge gives Mitt Romney an inner strength. He knows that, if his words alone don’t suffice, there are support groups out there for people who find themselves helplessly sliding from one party to another.
Growing up is not as easy as it looks, and arriving at the right values is a long and sometimes perplexing journey. Mitt would try to understand. Did Tagg find that at an early age he was attracted to Democrats and perhaps even repelled by Republicans? It is to Mitt Romney’s credit that he responded to his son with forbearance and sensitivity, knowing that many young people—Tagg Romney, it seems, among them—are deeply confused about their political identities. Who am I? they ask themselves. What am I? It is comforting to think that fathers like Mitt Romney are prepared to address the doubts and embarrassments of children who experiment ideologically and who need nothing more than a firm hand and wise counsel to return them to an upright path, where they will surely remain for as long as they are able to vote