Friday, September 21, 2012

From Father to Son: A Look Back at George W. Romney

by Nomad

I wanted to share some excerpts from a speech by Romney. Not Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, but by his father, George Romney, who was at that time the president of American Motors, soon to be the governor of Michigan.
The speech was given as part of the annual address to male students at Brigham Young University on  November 1961.
In this speech, George Romney touched upon many themes in the speech, including his faith and how much faith in God played an important role in his life and his philosophy. 
His reflections on the American system show Romney to have been a careful observer. Like a lot of liberals today, he saw America as an unfinished experiment and keeping the status quo was not one of George Romney’s principles. 
Long ago I became convinced that very few of us really understand America. Very few of us have really thought through the fundamental things about the American system. I think we are too much inclined to take it for granted that the American Revolution has been completed, that we have arrived, that we have it made. We haven't. The American Revolution is in its very early stages. This is true politically, it is true economically, it is true socially, it is true religiously. And it is going to take some nonconformists in America to jolt America out of its lethargy and its smugness.

Let's compare father with son in this regard: after campaigning for over a year, Mitt Romney’s campaign chief announced a shift in strategy. With seven weeks left before the election, Romney’ will "focus more tightly on a change-versus-status-quo strategy."

It is difficult to take such announcement seriously when he has spent months collecting fortunes from special interests, all of which have been made extraordinarily wealthy under the policies of the last Republican president. Maintaining the status quo has been characterized by the Republican obstructionism and the battle to keep the Bush-era tax cut for the most wealthy. Changing things, at least for the middle-class voters, is not one of the items on Mitt Romney's assigned agenda as far as the 1% are concerned.
In the speech, George Romney, the father, laid his finger on the problem.

Let me be more specific. Politically we have been a free country, based on the inalienable rights of all people, for about 180 years or more, and yet there are millions of Americans who cannot vote because of race. Further, politically, we have accepted the old idea, that we need only two major political parties--yet the membership in those two political parties combined is less than the membership of the Communist party in Russia. ...The two major parties in this country similarly have so few members and are similar in their structure and dedication to their primary purpose--which is to win elections. That is an important purpose.

After all, there are two essentials in human government--leadership and principle. You have to have both. But the two major parties compete in determining who is going to be responsible for leadership. If you are going to be a leader in a free society, you have to be in office, because you cannot be a leader out of office.
Romney of 1961 clearly saw a trend in American politics, which has now become noticeable to everybody. Winning the elections has now become more important than a clear-minded debate of the problems and clear choices before the electorate.
Consequently, winning the election has become the primary objective. Discussion of issues and problems that people do not understand is avoided because it will cost votes and may lose the election. Walter Lippman has pointed out in his book The Public Philosophy that there has not been a major political figure in this century in all the free countries who has been right too soon, who has been right before the people understood what ought to be done and has been successful.
Particularly in this regard, Mitt Romney has proven to be grossly incompetent in comparison to Obama. Whatever you might think of the President’s policies, he has proven himself capable of leading a nation, of being ahead of public opinion and willing to risk his political career based on principle and not on mere popularity. Take affordable health care, for example, or gay marriage, pro-choice or many other issues. 

(As we have seen in his 47% speech to wealthy donors, Mitt Romney’s private opinion on health care, in comparison, was that anybody who expected affordable medicare care in this country was little better than an entitled moocher.)
The political practice is to follow, not to lead. The political practice is to avoid the issues: Let somebody else take care of the issues. Yet a free society depends upon the informed electorate. What good does it do to have 50 per cent of the people vote if they do not know what they are voting about? I would rather see 5 per cent vote if they were informed than 50 per cent if they were uninformed. If the political leaders and the political parties provide no real discussion of the issues of the day, then how can the people be informed?

Henry Symonds points out that a free society depends upon an intelligent, relevant discussion of the issues. Issues and principles are more important than men and leaders. I do not care how capable a man is, if he is trying to use the wrong principles he cannot succeed.
 Given those words, we cannot help but wonder what George Romney would make of his son's campaign and how disappointed he might be.
This is a glaring deficiency in America. As a result of this situation, the pressure groups have excessive influence and money, and almost more people than in both parties. In my lifetime, I have not had an opportunity to vote in an election where there was a fundamental difference between the two major parties on the basis of basic principles. This country desperately needs at least one political party controlled by citizen members and dedicated to solving the problems of America on the basis of American principles.
We seem even further away from that goal today. You hear it all the time. That there's no great difference between the Republican and Democratic parties. Whether one party actively prostitutes itself to special interests or it surrenders its principles without much of a struggle, many voters have become deeply cynical about the outcome of any election.
Lest you think I am pessimistic, let me say this to you. These problems I am talking about have developed as a result of our success.

America has had tremendous entrenched success, Each success creates new problems. You are going to find that, as you go through life, the further you advance, the more problems you have, the more responsibilities you have.
In the years after the speech, the Cold War came to a close, with the collapse of the Soviet Union astounding nearly everybody, it was exactly that success which proved fatal for America.

With some far-farsightedness, he warned against the dangers of the kind of complacency that “entrenched success” can give any individual or nation.
There is no nation on earth, present or past, that has ever enjoyed the entrenched success that this country has enjoyed. This country is the most outstanding example of entrenched success in history. Therein lies one of our perils. We think it is so good that it is always going to last. Yet what Thornton Wilder said is eternally true, "Every good and excellent thing stands moment by moment on the razor edge of danger and must be fought for." You will never arrive at a point in your life, I do not care what your field is, when you can say, "I have arrived. I am there. I can take it easy,” without slipping and sliding and going in the other direction.

Sadly his son's campaign has turned off many voters away because of the arrogance he had shown with this very attitude. A kind of arrogance and self-satisfied smugness that simply will not go away. 
As he closed his speech, George Romney, as he returned to the core of his personal philosophy, became almost poetic.

Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing, Nevertheless they give up their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have, and we live it as we believe in living it, and then it's gone.
This is, perhaps, Mitt Romney’s biggest failing. Nobody can say for certain what he believes and what he is against. The last year, we have seen the candidate turn all of his once-firm opinions 180 degrees, He has lied about the facts, about his opponent, and repeatedly misrepresented his past decisions presumably for the sake of winning the election. 
Quoting Emerson, Romney observed:
"It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own: but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."
That quotation could easily serve as an epitaph to the aspirations of George Romney's son to be the next president of the United States.