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Why America doesn't like Mitt Romney

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 3:12 PM EDT, Tue August 14, 2012
Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally at Palacio De Los Jugos Monday in Miami, Florida.
Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally at Palacio De Los Jugos Monday in Miami, Florida.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: Polls show Americans favorable on Obama, not favorable on Romney
  • He says Romney's unpopularity stems from his sense of entitlement, disregard for others
  • He says Romney fails to realize that part of our strength is our dependence on each other
  • Granderson: Romney's likeability problem doesn't mean people won't vote for his ticket

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs

Grand Rapids, Michigan (CNN) -- For the past few months, I have been trying to figure out why Mitt Romney is so unlikeable.

It can't be because he's rich, because there are a lot of rich people we like. Hell, President Obama's rich and 56% of the country views him favorably.

It can't be because he's Republican, because Republicans don't like him either. Last month, when a woman reportedly asked House Speaker John Boehner, "Can you make me love Mitt Romney?" he said, "No... the American people probably aren't going to fall in love with Mitt Romney."

The latest CNN/ORC International Poll found that 48% of Americans view him unfavorably, which isn't exactly breaking news because Romney's been unable to get much likeability traction since announcing his first run at the White House five years ago. For a sex scandal-free politician, that's got to be a bit perplexing.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

But then last week, the reason for the bad vibes about Romney became clear. You see, he's been zipping across the country using President Obama's "You didn't build that" quote out of context for an analogy about a student who worked hard in school and made the honor roll. He used it again when he introduced his running mate, Paul Ryan last weekend.

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What the president said was:

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business — you didn't build that." He also said, "The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."

Romney spins it to make it sound as if the president is totally discrediting an individual's hard work, summing it up this way.

"I realize that he got to school on a bus and the bus driver got him there, but I don't give the bus driver credit for the honor roll," he said. "I give the kid credit for the honor roll."

Nothing's wrong with that statement by itself.

The problem is, we don't live by ourselves.

This analogy epitomizes what makes Romney so unlikeable to so many people, regardless of party, race, gender or socioeconomic status.

In his mind, the world is full of bus drivers and honor roll students and the two are independent of each other, which is why he can characterize President Obama's desire to help those less fortunate as creating a "culture of dependence." What rubs so many people the wrong way is Romney's inability to see that society is interdependent.

There are moments in some of Romney's speeches in which he comes across like the guy who doesn't wave when you let him into traffic, because in his mind, he was able to merge on his own.

Few people ever like that guy ... and this is why less than 50% of Americans like Romney.

Opinion: Is Paul Ryan for or against Ayn Rand?

Growing up, I rode the bus to school.

We only had one car and both my parents had to work. So if it wasn't for the bus I would have had to attend the neighborhood schools that were within walking distance as opposed to the special schools for high academic achievers that were an hour's ride away.

I worked hard to get accepted into the programs. I worked to stay there. But I would not have been able to do any of those things if it weren't for the bus drivers who made sure I got to school safe and on time.

When you genuinely live life through a prism of gratitude, you don't use analogies that minimize the impact others have on your life. When you live life through that prism, you don't see voters and delegates, you don't see the budget as just a bunch of numbers you have to make work.

You see the lives.

Romney doesn't irk us because he was born into privilege. He irks us because he behaves as if being born into privilege had nothing to do with his success. His wife, Ann, was supposed to make her husband more appealing. It didn't work. Now the question is: Can Paul Ryan make Mitt likeable?

I doubt it.

When men like Ryan or Obama or Vice President Joe Biden roll their sleeves up to talk to blue collar voters, it feels real because it's coming from a real place inside.

When Romney rolls his sleeves up, it's clear he's trying to send a message -- because his sense of entitlement and social disconnect prevents him from being the message.

That doesn't mean people won't vote for him in November. It's just that they won't be doing so because they like him.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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