Saturday February 16, 2013
When Romney was the Most Honest Man in the Race
I'm in the middle of Rick Perlstein's epic tome, “Nixonland,” about how the U.S. went from a Democratic landslide in 1964 to a Republican landslide in 1972. Think race riots, open housing, left-wing idiots and right-wing wish-fulfillment fantasies.
I don't agree with everything here. I think Perlstein's a bit harsh on RFK. He includes some odd asides, such as declaring the song “She's Leaving Home,” from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album's “most beautiful moment.” Overall, the book merely strengthens, rather than challenges, my opinion of what went wrong with politics in this country in my lifetime. But it's giving me ammunition.
Some of the most eye-opening moments, particularly when compared with the recent 2012 election, contrast George Romney, the Republican governor of Michigan and a media darling, with Richard Nixon, a media joke and a stealth campaigner, who would, of course, trounce Romney before the '68 race even began. Romney's fault, according to Perlstein?
He was too damned forthright, too earnest—especially about Vietnam. He grappled with it honestly. Which would make what he said sound absurd, since everyone else was in denial or lying.
[Romney's] forthright honesty was his calling card, his contrast with the wheeler-dealer LBJ and the used-car salesman Nixon, what made him, along with that strong, square chin and silvering hair and popularity with Democrats, look like a contender. But honesty was a dull blade to take into a knife fight with Richard Nixon—who was simply willing to lie.
It doesn't take a genius to realize the lesson young Mitt took from this.