Earlier this week, my Washington Examiner colleague Paul Bedard created a stir when he reported that some Democrats were hoping that voters would make a connection between the villain in the new Batman movie and Mitt Romney.
"The Dark Knight Rises," the final installment of Christopher Nolan's epic Batman trilogy, features the villain Bane, whose name conveniently is pronounced the same way as Bain, the investment firm that Romney successfully led, which has been at the center of recent attacks from the Obama campaign.
Rush Limbaugh drew cackles when he mused on his Tuesday radio show, "Do you think that it is accidental that the name of the really vicious fire-breathing four-eyed whatever it is villain in this movie is named Bane?" Bane the comic book villain debuted in January 1993, when Romney was still running private equity firm Bain, and before he had entered politics. The film itself has been in development for several years.
But if Romney is to be compared to a character in the mega-blockbuster debuting this Friday, as Amanda Read suggested in the Washington Times, Batman might be more appropriate.
That's not to suggest Romney is jumping from rooftops and fighting crime in a black suit. Batman is the secret identity of ultra-wealthy Bruce Wayne. And like Wayne, Romney can come across as detached, aloof and out of touch, even as he is helping others in secret.
If somebody were judging Romney based on news coverage and attacks by the Obama campaign, one would get the impression that he got rich by bankrupting companies, laying off workers and moving jobs overseas. He doesn't give a toss about people. His awkwardness and wealthy lifestyle reinforce this image.
But despite his public persona, Romney actually has a history of going out of his way to donate his time and money to helping those in difficult circumstances.
In the tax returns from 2010 and estimated returns for 2011 that he released earlier this year, Romney reported having given about 16.4 percent of his income over the past two years to his family charity, the Tyler Foundation. In addition to donations to the Mormon church, Romney and his wife, Ann, donated money to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, the Center for the Treatment of Pediatric MS, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Homes for Our Troops and the Inner-City Scholarship Fund, among others.
In their book "The Real Romney," Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman capture Romney's complicated nature -- his public callousness and quiet charity. The authors recall that during his 1994 Senate race in Massachusetts against Ted Kennedy, roughly a week before the election, Romney did a campaign stop at a Boston shelter for homeless veterans. The director of the center told Romney their budget was being crushed by the cost of milk. In his political mode, Romney awkwardly joked that they should just teach veterans how to milk cows. Obviously, that did not go over well and Romney took a lot of heat for the comment publicly. But privately, he arranged for the shelter to receive its milk for half-price, for years after he had lost the election, without publicity.
Kranish and Helman capture numerous examples like this. Romney aided a family that had received devastating news when two sons were rendered quadriplegics by a terrible car accident. He physically helped build a playground to honor a neighbor's child who had died of cystic fibrosis. He shut down Bain Capital so that all the partners could search for the daughter of one of the partners who had gone missing in New York City.
So it's easy to focus on the coincidental naming of Batman's villain, but it would be more worthwhile to see the film as a reminder that a person's public image can often mask his identity.
Philip Klein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @philipaklein.