Stumbled across an interesting artifact the other day concerning George Romney, father of the not-official-yet-but-who-are-we-kidding Republican nominee Mitt Romney. George Romney has come up a couple of times in this campaign, mostly when Mitt was stumping in his home state of Michigan. What I saw was a letter sent to George (in 1964, when he was governor of Michigan) from Delbert Stapley, an apostle for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It’s worth your time to read the whole, ugly, sugary thing.
The principal point of the letter is that George Romney marched with and supported black civil rights leaders in the early 60′s, and that was against Mormon teachings. Mormon teachings at that time said blacks were a “cursed people.”
Mr. Stapley gently (oh, so very gently) warns Gov. Romney that he [Stapley] remembered “what happened to three of our nation’s presidents who were active in the Negro cause…I am sobered by their demise.”
What he is talking about is the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield and Kennedy. The Kennedy Assassination was just over three months old when this letter was written, so…points for timeliness to Mr. Stapley. All three Presidents had made efforts, whether succesful (Lincoln) or not, to elevate the status of African-Americans in society. One could argue about the heartfelt intentions of Mr. Lincoln’s Emancipation Prolacmation and subsequent 13th amendment (was freeing slaves a matter of duty or a grab to enlist black men for the Northern Army?), but free is free. Kennedy was noticeably lukewarm on the subject during his first two years in office, but began taking major strides towards full civil rights in his final one.
However, Governor Romney was not a president, he did not need to get everyone’s vote, and so full civil equality was something he could wear on his sleeve.
There’s a lot of chatter in conservative-leaning papers (see Washington Times above) that wants to tie Mitt to George. That sounds like a fine idea, unless anyone makes a big deal out of the fact that George created Michigan’s first state tax (Tea Party!) and championed smaller, fuel-efficient cars (Big Oil!).
George was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in Richard Nixon’s first term. Mr. Nixon had just come off a highly successful (and odious) “Southern Strategy,” which used subtly pressurized anti-black fervor to stoke Southern voters. However, George Romney used HUD to start an open communities project, which hastened black/white housing integration. Mitt has begun flirting with the idea that HUD might not be around under his watch.
HUD and George Romney were dealt major blows in 1972 when it was discovered that there was a scandal-a-brewin’! Bigoted speculators, now forced to sell to black people, would inflate the value of HUD homes, raising mortgages on blacks who couldn’t afford them. Those families didn’t get their homes, and the government defaulted on the mortgages.
George Romney, terribly fed up with Nixon and politics, waited until the “Un-Crook” was re-elected, and then resigned. He gladly returned to private life.
He dipped his toes back into politics in the early 90′s, when he coached Mitt to run against Edward Kennedy for a Massachusetts senate seat; you know, the one where Mitt said he’s better than Kennedy for gay rights.
George wanted Mitt to rely on his own instincts, rather than political advisors. On this, too, George Romney was a good man and a total political failure.
It kind of gives a new spin to this scene from the current season of Mad Men:
George Romney was from a time when the Republican Party was changing. Romney’s sometimes opponent, Barry Goldwater, would reflect on this a great deal. Mr. Goldwater was nicknamed “Mr. Conservative.” He was against welfaire and thought social security should be voluntary. He is considered the godfather of modern conservatism. Yet, he would always fight the influence Christianity had over the Republican Party.
“…Pat Robertson and others…are trying to take the Republican party and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye,” he told the Washington Post in 1994. I wonder why I never hear Goldwater’s name come up on Fox News ever.
Goldwater lobbied that abortion was a woman’s choice and not the government’s. He advocated for gays serving openly in the military (from his biography): “You don’t need to be ‘straight’ to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight.” More good shit from Mr. Goldwater on this topic here.
What exactly did happen to the Republican Party? Mr. Goldwater’s just told you. What would Goldwater and George Romney, were they alive today, have thought of Mitt Romney’s plan to federally ban gay marriage?
For Goldwater, the answer seems clear, but with George, it’s maybe a little harder to say. Black civil rights are much, much different than gay civil rights in many serious respects. However, the heart of it is the same, true conservatism, the old Grand Old Party: It’s impossible to legislate morality, much less someone’s version of morality, so butt out.
It seems that on this one, Barack Obama, not Mitt, is George Romney’s heir.