Sunday, February 5, 2012

A tale of two Romneys

Michael Tomasky at the New York Review of Books:
Gov. signing collective bargaining bill for public employees
George Wilcken Romney, the former automobile executive who became the centrist Republican governor of Michigan in 1963, was considered a presidential possibility leading up to the 1964 election. Moderate Republicans around the country were getting awfully nervous about this Goldwater fellow and seeking out plausible alternatives. But Romney, a tall and square-jawed man with impressive hair, had made a commitment to the voters of his state that he would serve four years, and Romney was a man who meant what he said, so a 1964 run was out of the question.
The task of opposing Barry Goldwater fell to other moderates—Nelson Rockefeller and Pennsylvania’s William Scranton. Romney did, however, leave his mark on the campaign: having deemed Goldwater an enemy of civil rights, which he backed ardently, he walked out of the party’s convention at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. He had his seventeen-year-old youngest son, Mitt, in tow, and thus Mitt, too, occasionally gets credit...for stalking away from his party on a matter of the highest principle.

Today, as the younger Romney struggles to secure the GOP nomination that seemed his for the taking until his crushing loss to Newt Gingrich in South Carolina, to think about that anecdote and his father’s towering influence on him...and to watch Willard Mitt Romney run a campaign in which he has charged as hard and fast to the right as he could on almost every issue you can think of lead inevitably to comparisons between the two Romneys, comparisons in which the younger Romney comes up dramatically short.

Mitt Romney, as the Massachusetts governor who passed health care legislation, had been a leader, just a few years ago, of the GOP‘s now much-diminished moderate wing. At the 2008 GOP convention in St. Paul, Romney’s party took a number of positions completely at odds with those he had taken as governor, on abortion, gay rights, stem-cell research, and other matters, and adopted other extremist rallying cries, like the infamous “Drill, Baby, Drill!” chant, which thundered maniacally (I was there) through the hall when Sarah Palin spoke, as if the assembled were packing decades’ worth of rage at the liberal establishment into those three words.

But does anyone think for a second that Romney fils would have walked out on his party, or even worked to moderate certain platform planks? It’s beyond comprehension. We’ve seen plenty enough now to know that that isn’t who Mitt Romney is. Instead, this self-selected member of the East Coast elite opened his convention speech this way:

For decades now, the Washington sun has been rising in the east. You see, Washington has been looking to the eastern elites, to the editorial pages of the Times and the Post, and to the broadcasters from the coast.

If America really wants to change, it’s time to look for the sun in the west, ‘cause it’s about to rise and shine from Arizona and Alaska!    ...
(Mitt Romney) “grew up idolizing” his father... He walked the factory floor with him at the American Motors Corporation, which the elder Romney made profitable; he listened closely to his father’s religious and civic lectures; he wanted to become his father. His pursuit of the presidency surely has much to do with the fact that his father didn’t make it there, torpedoed by his famous comment about having been “brainwashed” about American progress in the war by generals on a visit to Vietnam.
George Romney didn’t back down from that remark, made to a Detroit television interviewer in 1967. He never backed down, not even to Nixon, with whom, as HUD secretary, he had numerous skirmishes. The son...seems to have decided that backing down is often a pretty good idea. Commentators have spent countless hours speculating whether Romney is “really” moderate or conservative. The answer is that he is neither, and both. The lessons he learned from watching his father fail to make it to the White House are: don’t stick to your guns; be flexible; suit the needs of the moment. And so, in order to complete his father’s unfulfilled destiny, he has decided to become his father’s opposite.

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