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“The Art Of Insincerity”: Mitt Romney, Like Father, Like Son?

In conservative political folklore, the 1964 election was a crushing defeat that laid the philosophical groundwork that ultimately led to Ronald Reagan’s triumph.

No one likes to talk as proudly about 1968’s razor-thin election of  Richard Nixon. It’s much more sanitary to take Sen. Barry Goldwater and  skip straight to Reagan. But ’68 was at least as important as ’64, and  maybe more so; it was that campaign that yielded the potent Southern strategy;  the counter-counterculture; the full-throated resentment toward coastal  elites. If ’64 was aimed at the conservative mind, ’68 was aimed at the  conservative viscera.

The late Gov. George Romney, of course, was a minor figure in the  drama of ’68. A moderate Rockefeller Republican, he would lose soundly  to Nixon, the former vice president and California senator.

With all this in mind, I looked up one of my favorite modern political histories, Garry Wills’s Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man.

Here’s what Wills had to say about that era’s candidate Romney:

Romney built up a belief in his “nonpolitical”  background: here was a man (men thought) who worked his way up in the  business world and then—sincere novice amid deal-fettered pros—entered  politics with the innocence of an outsider. The truth is that Romney  began his career in politics, after three unsuccessful attempts (at  three different schools) to get a college education. He went to  Washington, in pursuit of his childhood sweetheart, the intense Lenore,  and got a job as an aide to Senator David Walsh of Massachusetts. He did  work on tariff bills that equipped him for a new career—a lobbyist for  Alcoa, he spent nine years as a Washington glad-hander around Burning  Tree Country Club and the National Press Club. Then he became an  automobile lobbyist (on the carmakers’ Trade Advisory Commission),  dealing with the National Recovery Administration. From this post he  rose to become manager of the AMA (American Manufacturers  Association)—an office that made him, in wartime, managing director of  the Automotive Council for War Production. He had now spent nineteen  years fronting for big business among politicians.

Hmph. This sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it? To be fair, former  Gov. Mitt Romney succeeded in business before failing at politics, and  he never was a lobbyist. But there’s still the same “pious baloney” about a private-sector white knight riding in to save government.

Yet here are a couple of key differences between Romney pere and  fils. According to Wills, George Romney wasn’t known for smarts: “Robert  McNamara, who urged Romney to get into politics when they were both  auto men around Detroit, later came to know him better: Romney’s  trouble, he concluded, is that the man ‘has no brains.’ ”

Even more interesting, there’s this. Romney’s presidential ambitions  were significantly thwarted by his change of heart over the Vietnam  War. He’d gone from supporting it as “morally right and necessary” to  calling for peace “at an early time.” He compared a briefing he’d  received in November 1965 to “brainwashing.”

This was no convenient flip-flop, however. Wills notes:

His greatest gift had been mesmeric power to convince  others because he so convinced himself. The blue eyes burn toward you  under that low white cap of hair; the block of athletic face is rigid  with fresh seizures of sincerity. He has a fanatic’s belief in  everything he says or does, and a prophet’s fierce anger if anyone  questions him. A desire to keep his burning conviction unsullied by  earthly ties explains his later aloofness from politics and politicians.  … He went down, thrashing ridiculously, in 1968; yet he maintained to  the end that it was a public service for him to call his briefing a  case of successful brainwashing.

In this, the son is strikingly unlike the father. It’s clear that,  whatever else Mitt Romney gleaned from the experience of ’68, he learned  about the sometimes necessary art of insincerity. Everything about  Mitt’s political career to this point suggests that he’s not content to  go down in honorable defeat, as Goldwater did. He will not be undone by  “seizures of sincerity” or a “prophet’s anger.” He is smarter, more  devious, and more contemptuous than his father.

If he could speak to his father on the other side, he might say, “You  tried your way, Dad. Now I’m trying mine. This is how a Rockefeller  Republican overcomes the ‘muttonheads’ who fell for Goldwater and  Nixon.”

 

By: Scott Galupo, U. S. News and World Report, January 31, 2012

February 1, 2012 - Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , ,

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