Running a fraternity as a president, treasurer, or any other position which requires the office holder to exert some sort of control over their brothers is no easy task. In fact, it can be pretty damn hard. Like “running a third world country” hard. You have an unruly, and at times actively counterproductive, populous, perpetual conflicts with your neighbors, general lawlessness, mild corruption (at best), and a higher governing body ready to hit you with sanctions the moment things get too out of hand. Honestly, would a fraternity president really be that surprised if he walked out onto the house’s front lawn and found one of those university golf carts that board members ride around on, destroyed and being jumped on like a downed Blackhawk helicopter in Mogadishu?
All of this in what is probably a person’s first big test of their leadership abilities. Being on exec board is your pledgeship into a life of leadership, as long as you’re not burnt out on the idea by the end of your term.
Holding a position on exec board, especially being president, is a solid testament to one’s potential leadership abilities. It would make sense that a candidate for political office might mention it. Obviously it should be far from the focal point of one’s leadership experience, but if that person feels inclined to dedicate a line on the résumé to it, that’s understandable. So then it is understandable that Mitt Romney mentioned in an interview with Politico that his fraternity leadership experience was in part a reason why he is qualified to be the president.
The problem though, is that Mitt Romney wasn’t in a fraternity. According to his Wikipedia page Romney “successfully rushed” Phi Kappa Sigma at Stanford University. I assume that just means he got a bid, but either didn’t accept or wasn’t initiated. He is not listed on the fraternity’s notable alumni list, leaving Skip Bayless as their greatest alum to date. There is no other mention of Romney being a member of any fraternity. In the interview, Romney clarifies what he means by “fraternity.”
Again and again, he argued that he was likable enough to bring together people of divergent views to rescue the Olympics, pioneer profit-making ideas at Bain, govern a Democratic state and even to win over peers in school.
“I was voted the president of my fraternity,” he said. “They don’t call them fraternities at Brigham Young University. They’re called Service Clubs. It was the Cougar Club. But you don’t get voted to be head of your group if you don’t get along with people, if you don’t connect with people.”
So what is the Cougar Club? Some sort of student group at BYU that exists in place of fraternities? Those are common at many schools, especially ones with religious affiliations. In many of them there exists an essentially identical sort of culture to actual fraternities. Is that what the Cougar Club is/was? Maybe. From the university’s FAQ:
Q: What is the Cougar Club?
A: The Cougar Club is the official booster organization for BYU Athletics. The Athletic Department receives no tithing money or tax dollars to run BYU’s athletic programs. The Cougar Club is responsible for raising the funds to pay for Athletic Department expenses including student-athlete scholarships, coaches’ salaries, and recruiting expenses, as well as funding the facilities and programs associated with each of BYU’s 21 athletic teams.
Considering Romney attended BYU decades ago, it’s worth looking into whether or not today’s incarnation of the Cougar Club is the same as it was during Romney’s time there. From a 2007 New York Times piece on Romney:
Instead, Mr. Romney devoted himself to the Cougar Club, an exclusive all-male social club known for its sharp blue blazers. The group usually held Hawaiian luaus and other events to raise a few thousand dollars a year for the university’s sports teams. Elected its president his senior year, Mr. Romney applied the motivational skills he learned in France to lead a telethon that raised $1 million. “Mitt told us, ‘Guys, we can do better,’” Dr. McBride recalled. “He energized it.”
We can get into how much of a fraternity you consider Romney’s Cougar Club in a moment, but it’s clearly different today than it was in his time. But first, it’s probably worth positing, considering his current wealth and apparent wild success as a student athletic booster, whether or not Mitt Romney literally craps golden eggs. He raised ONE MILLION DOLLARS in a telethon? In 1971! In 2012, with inflation, that would be over 5.6 million dollars.
As for Romney’s Cougar Club, it certainly sounds like they looked the part of fraternity men, though considering they were BYU students I’m not sure their social lives got much wilder than a Saturday night I Dream of Jeannie marathon. “She’s blonde just like our Mormon women! But she shows her midsection! ON TV! It’s wild!”
I don’t think Mitt Romney’s version of the Cougar Club can be considered much of a fraternity. It’s a club, but that’s okay, because that whole “raised a million dollars” thing is still blowing my mind. Can we start calling him “The Money Whisperer?” I literally will if he fixes the economy. I’d also like to see if he could unlock a bank vault with only his handsomeness.
To be honest, all of this is really overanalyzing what was a simple mislabeling by Romney. I happen to agree with the main point he was making, which is that “you don’t get voted to be the head of your group if you don’t get along with people, if you don’t connect with people.” That’s valid.
Mitt Romney was not in a fraternity. Mitt Romney is an experienced and qualified leader. Mitt Romney might also crap golden eggs.
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