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Filler: Mitt Romney and the freedom lottery

U.S. Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt

U.S. Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to supporters at a rally on a farm near Van Meter, Iowa. (Oct. 9, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

Often when I'm waiting in line to pursue my long-term financial planning strategy, which is how I think of buying Powerball tickets, I fall into a reverie. I have time to do this because I am invariably stuck behind a guy playing daily numbers as if he were taking an oral arithmetic final: "Give me the 695, box the 342, the 543, the 796, and the 672. I need the 763, 764, 765 and I'll take 16 scratch-offs."

The gentleman will then, usually, brandish a stack of old tickets the size of a King James Bible, and say, "Can you check to see if these are winners?"

I not only have time for daydreaming, I have ample opportunity to let my life flash before my eyes, and replay the good parts a few times.

What my mind wanders to is the irony: I'd love to cash a big Powerball ticket, but I already won the lottery, on 12/12/1970, when I was born. I think it's important to recognize that. And I get frustrated with people who can't or won't. Mitt Romney is one of those people.

Just being born in the United States is a huge win. Less than 5 percent of the world's population is lucky enough to cash the ticket that is being American. This is a free land, a place of plentiful food and high incomes, a nation of order and opportunity. My being here doesn't make me better than folks born in Rwanda or Libya or Afghanistan or Mexico. It marks me as more fortunate.

I won again when I was born to kind and loving parents who were reasonably well-educated, dedicated to me and my sister, and married for life. I had food, clothing and shelter that was more than ample. Just as important, they tried to instill in me a work ethic (it didn't take as quickly as they might have wished) and they tried to treat me to an expensive education.

Then there are the gifts from God: health and strength, and a mind functional enough that it allows me to write for a living. Readers doubtless wish I had been graced with a mind powerful enough to actually write well, but life is flawed.

I am, in many ways, a conservative. But one aspect of liberalism I respect greatly is that it acknowledges the tremendous power of luck in life, and argues that those who have benefited from it owe a certain debt of gratitude, best paid off by helping those who haven't.

And if there's an aspect of conservatism I despise it's the assertion, silent or spoken, that luck doesn't exist and all success derives from virtue.

I'm not at all uncomfortable with Mitt Romney's $250-million fortune. It's his, he earned it, he deserves to enjoy it and pass it on to his children. And he's a charitable guy, so I'm certainly not accusing him of selfishness. But I am uncomfortable with the fact that he seems to ascribe every aspect of his success to virtue, and seems to give none of the credit for his very great fortune to his very great fortune.

But the difference between Romney, or some Wall Street magnate who donates to his campaign, and a roofer or soldier or fisherman, isn't how hard they work. It's luck.

And the difference between these folks and a skid row bum is largely luck, too. Nobody wants to fail, or be homeless, or give their lives over to drugs and alcohol. Those that do are broken vessels, and we who don't are fortunate.

This is something President Barack Obama seems to understand and communicate far better than Romney.

There's no way for everyone to be born on third base, as Romney was, or second, as I was, or even with the talent needed to hit the ball and run the bases. But those of us granted such gifts shouldn't pretend we aren't lucky. That's like hitting the Powerball for $300 million and bragging about how hard we worked to pick the right numbers.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.