Like Father, Like Son
Desiderius Erasmus, 1466-1536
Porcupine has literally hundreds of books, and dozens of them are political books. He keeps some favorites in his bay window, where he reads the paper each morning, and is often surprised when he re-reads them. For instance, in his book of essays 'Reflections of a Radical Moderate', Elliott Richardson wrote in 1996 that in addition to opinion polls, "In this information age, it would not be hard to stride towards a more faithful compliance with public opinion". He advocated 'beaming' into people's homes various issue questions, with an 800-number to respond to, or, "Those who wish to do so could also communicate their individual views via the Internet to a center where they could be electronically processed and tabulated" - anticipating Internet straw polls and political blogging by about, oh, ten years.
A brand new political book is by West Coast media maven Hugh Hewitt on the candidacy of Mitt Romney, and Romney's views and ideas. What he may not know is that the book is a reprise of another book exactly forty years earlier, and written for similar reasons -to convince Americans that Mormons could be responsible office holders.
Clark Mollenhoff's book was published in 1967, to tell the country about George Romney, his life, and his relationship to his faith. When reading the book, there are many eerie coincidences. Seventeen year old George Romney met his wife Lenore when she was fifteen, the same ages as Ann and Mitt when they met, and immediately decided to marry her. He went to England and Scotland for his two year missionary stint for the Mormon church, like Mitt went to France, trying to convince Glaswegians to convert, and then followed Lenore to Washington, D.C. when her family moved there. Mass. Senator David Walsh gave him a job on the Tariffs Committee, and he was able to continue his pursuit. When Lenore went to California, he followed her there as well, and convinced her to drop a $50,000 contract with MGM and an acting career to marry a marginally employed college dropout. She consented, and they never looked back. It explains somewhat why the Romneys were so understanding when Mitt announced he would marry the teenaged girl he met.
The biggest knock on George Romney from his opponents? "Efforts were made to label him as a man who 'shoots from the hip', who is 'superficial', who 'goes as the wind blows' and as a plodding business executive with no intellectual depth." Most of the criticism came because he changed his stance on the VietNam War, and criticized Robert McNamara. Flip flops hadn't been invented yet.
Then, there is the Perfection Factor. "Critics have called Romney 'corny' because he expresses himself in terms of strait-laced middle-class morality. He says he believes in hard work,integrity and high purpose in public office and often has been chided as just being too sincere". Mitt was long ago christened the Holy Cow Candidate, for his simiarly upbeat and non-profane speech.
Of course, speech has been a problem for father and son. A throwaway remark that 'the Generals really brainwashed us to make us think VietNam was going well', and an assertion that 'I've been a hunter pretty much all my life', show that the Romney style of speech is peculiarly vulnerable to gotcha politics. In both cases, everybody knew what they meant, knew they were guilty of hyperbole at the worst, and ignored everything else they said in favor of the one remark. Mitt may be more cautious than George, but he has good reason to be.
The most depressing thing about reading the two books is that the second one is necessary. "It really kills me, that this guy is claiming to have some kind of personal pipeline to God, just to get himself elected." The words were spoken 40 years ago by Gus Scholle, a UAW functionary. They coud have been - probably have been - spoken about Mitt Romney last week. The only remaining acceptable form of hate speech is anti-religion. Perhaps Americans have learned some tolerance in the last forty years, and will give Mitt Romney the chance his father never had.