Apology is overdue to George W. Romney for my remembering him only as an unsophisticated man whose remarks about being “brainwashed” in Vietnam cost him the 1968 GOP nomination.
In Rolling Stone, Rick Pearlstein summons up the elder Romney, with ancient videotape, to recall a time when some politicians still tried to tell the truth, even if it derailed their ambitions.
The lessons Mitt Romney drew from his father’s defeat were all the wrong ones.
Back then, George Romney was a successful auto manufacturer who campaigned against “gas guzzlers,” became governor of Michigan and had the silver-fox good looks of a president (Does Mitt dye his hair?) but, in that pre-everyday-debate era, frustrated the press corps with a salesman’s genial naivete on issues.
A fellow Republican governor observed, “Watching George Romney run for president is like watching a duck try to [George Carlin verb] a football.”
Yet Romney, as Pearlstein reminds us, had defied his Mormon church by leading a march for civil rights, advocated for them in the South in ’68 and, “after America's worst riot broke out in Detroit under his watch, the governor said that America could respond with a crackdown...‘but our system would become little better than a police state.’"
When the elder Romney turned against the Vietnam War (as the entire country was doing that year) with one unfortunate word, politicians and media jumped on him, and his frontrunner status was gone. Then LBJ stepped down, and we got Nixon, who prolonged the war for years, and gave us Watergate.
“Mitt learned at an impressionable age,” Pearlstein concludes, “that in politics, authenticity kills. Heeding the lesson of his father's fall, he became a virtual parody of an inauthentic politician.”
George Romney made automobiles and gave back part of his salary and bonuses when he thought they were too high; Mitt has made only money, tons of it, and won’t say exactly how and how much.
George Romney and his wife supported Planned Parenthood; Mitt has flip-flopped into Right to Life.
George Romney was so much of a do-gooder that a critic described his political career as like “sending a Salvation Army lass into the chorus at a burlesque house.” Mitt Romney seems right at home in today’s GOP whorehouse.
Political patrimony in our time keeps producing disappointing results: Romney is following the footprints of George W. Bush. As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo looms on the 2016 horizon, we can only hope that Democrats have stronger bloodlines.