Another Romney post

May 30, 2012

For all the attention given to Gov Romney’s trip to Canada with his dog on the car roof, and more recently to the bullying incident from his school days, I find this less well known incident almost as interesting: his arrest in 1981 for disorderly conduct.

Disorderly?

Mitt Romney??

Well, he didn’t think he was being disorderly, and after a threatened lawsuit the charge was quickly dropped. What happened was, he was at a lake with his family, and was going to put their boat into the water when a park officer came along and told him not to. It seems the boat’s license wasn’t clearly visible, according to the officer. In any case, when told the fine was $50, Mitt figured he could just pay it, and proceeded to launch the boat, whereupon the officer arrested him.

My first thought was, “that’s a Republican’s and a businessman’s attitude for you. You can break whatever law you want as long as you’re willing and able to pay the fine.”

But it isn’t that simple. Sometimes the line between a fine and a mere fee isn’t so clear. Lots of perfectly law-abiding people keep library books overdue, pay the fines when required to, end of story; no one considers it a matter of moral turpitude. And as I recall there was an incident discussed in Freakonomics, in which a day care center tried to cut down on late pickups by imposing at least a token fine, and found it produced the opposite effect: parents who formerly made every effort to pick up their kids on time just because it was the right thing to do, now felt that they didn’t have to try so hard because they could just pay the fine instead.

Also, part of the ethos of civil disobedience is that the protester must be willing to pay whatever penalty is imposed by law…

So the line between a moralistic and a pragmatic view of the law is a fuzzy one. Still, it is somewhat telling that Mitt’s natural response to being told by an officer not to do something was along the lines of “no problem, I can afford it.”

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