WASHINGTON -– First, let’s get something straight.
Mitt Romney’s father, George Romney, did not “release” 12 years of his income tax returns when he declared his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in November 1967.
Instead, the millionaire businessman and Michigan governor turned them over to a friendly journalist named T. George
Harris, who included a one-page “abstract” of yearly totals in a saccharine campaign biography published at the time of the campaign launch.
Harris gave few details of the elder Romney’s investments, other than to reassure readers that he and his wife had “never made much use of tax loopholes, such as depletion allowances, that are taken for granted by most people who reach their bracket.”
Still, Romney’s move was unusual –- unusually candid –- and was indeed path-breaking. According to wire service accounts at the time, no presidential candidate had ever done so much to disclose their finances.
But it didn’t win him any points, or any votes. He impressed the media, but no one else.
It was, however, consistent with the kind of guy George Romney was, and with how he wanted to be known. He was so candid and forthcoming, in fact, that his honesty on another matter cost him whatever shot he might have had at the GOP nomination that year.
A relative dove on Vietnam, Romney explained away his earlier support for the war by saying that he had been “brainwashed” by the Pentagon into believing rosy scenarios about the bloody conflict.
His un-programmed confession not only got him in trouble with hawks in both parties, it made him seem like a credulous fool.
Sen. Eugene McCarthy, a tart-tongued anti-war Democrat, essentially finished Romney with one remark. “Romney says he was brainwashed,” said McCarthy. “I think a light rinse would have been sufficient.” Romney’s son Mitt saw this humiliation. He’s been trying to make up for it ever since.
So for the second time in a dozen years, Republicans are offering the country a presidential candidate whose central operating principle is to do everything 180 degrees differently from his father.
For George W. Bush in 2000 and Romney now, that means campaigning at maximum distance from uncontrolled exposure to the press corps; a firm commitment to low-tax, anti-abortion, pro-Pentagon and other bedrock conservative views; totally scripted events; and a reluctance to disclose all but the most minimal details of business ventures that preceded politics.
The parallel political arc of the Bush and Romney families, who have known each other as friends for decades, trace the
evolution of the GOP itself –- from a party populated at the top by voluble, even eccentric country club moderates, to the hard-edged, message-disciplined Tea Party conservative crusaders of today.
Having watched their fathers embarrassed politically -– President George H.W. Bush by losing reelection in 1992 to an Arkansas hound dog named Bill Clinton; George Romney by being “brainwashed” out of the race in 1968 -– the sons focused on winning at all costs, even if that means speaking mostly to the converted.
Bush the Elder, son of a moderate Republican senator from Connecticut who was a golfing partner of Ike’s, fitfully supported federal civil rights measures and famously moved his lips to raise taxes in 1991. As a result, he became a pariah in his own post-Reagan party.
In office, George W. cut taxes radically and almost never challenged the Right. And he famously went to Baghdad a decade after his father refused to do so at the end of the first Gulf War.
Mitt is his father in reverse. George Romney had dreamed of attending Harvard Business School, but never finished college. Mitt has TWO Harvard professional degrees, in business and in law. George loved to wade into conversations and arguments on shop floors and campaign stops. Mitt almost runs from unscripted moments.
George was a close friend of labor leader Walter Reuther of the United Auto Workers union, and won huge chunks of labor support in his runs for governor. Mitt has frosty at best relations with labor. George was deeply immersed in aspects of the civil rights movement, including fair housing laws and programs. Mitt Romney rarely met with civil rights leaders during his time as governor of Massachusetts.
George Romney proposed programs in Michigan and nationally that included “revenues.” His son is now a staunch foe of tax increases.
George Romney ended up deeply questioning the war in Vietnam. Mitt has had little to say about what the U.S. should do in, say, Afghanistan.
As for income tax returns, we know THAT story. George was a pioneer of transparency, noteworthy in his day. Mitt has clammed up.
We’ll see if it does the son any good.
With A Little Help From My Friends (Joe Cocker)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/28/mitt-romney-will-not-repu_n_1551540.html" target="_hplink">(May 28, 2012) --</a></strong> Despite a resurgence of <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/05/25/mitt-romney-s-new-bff-donald-trump.html" target="_hplink">Donald Trump's birther claims</a>, Romney refused to repudiate the billionaire, who has been helping with his 2012 campaign efforts. "You know, I don't agree with all the people who support me ... I need to get 50.1 percent or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people," Romney said. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Who Let The Dogs Out (Baha Men)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/16/mitt-romney-seamus_n_1429925.html" target="_hplink">(April 16, 2012) -- </a></strong> In an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, Romney discussed the political fallout over strapping his dog Seamus to a car roof. He admits that he probably would not do it again. (Handout)
It's The End Of The World As We Know It (R.E.M.)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/mitt-romney-medicare-president-obama_n_1403267.html" target="_hplink">WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 4, 2012) --</a></strong> Speaking before the Newspaper Association of America, Romney attacked Barack Obama on his health record, claiming the president "has taken a series of steps that end Medicare as we know it." (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
For The Love Of Money (The O'Jays)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/14/mitt-romney-i-made-a-lot-of-money_n_1345516.html" target="_hplink"><strong>NEW YORK, N.Y. (March 14, 2012) -- </strong></a> Romney became testy on Fox News while discussing his appeal to lower-income voters. On the same day, Occupy Wall Street protesters staged a demonstration outside Mitt's Waldorf Astoria hotel fundraiser. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
People Are Strange (The Doors)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/mitt-romney-south_n_1334478.html" target="_hplink">PASCAGOULA, Miss. (March 9, 2012) --</a></strong> While on the trail in Alabama and Mississippi, Romney got in touch with his Southern side, learning how to say "y'all" and liking his grits. With those new experiences in hand, he admitted that "strange things are happening to me." (Photo: AP/Evan Vucci)
Pink Cadillac (Bruce Springsteen)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/24/mitt-romney-cadillac_n_1299740.html" target="_hplink"><strong>DETROIT, Mich. (Feb. 24, 2012) -- </strong></a> While speaking before the Detroit Economic Club at Ford Field, Romney listed not two, not three, but four American-made cars that he and his wife, Ann, owned. Among the vehicles: "a couple of Cadillacs." (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
It's The Hard-Knock Life (Annie & The Orphans)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/01/mitt-romney-very-poor_n_1246557.html" target="_hplink">TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 1, 2012) --</a></strong> In an interview with CNN, Romney noted that he is "not concerned about the very poor," citing the social safety net for that segment of the populace. (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
America The Beautiful
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/31/mitt-romney-america-the-beautiful-_n_1243908.html" target="_hplink"><strong>THE VILLAGES, Fla. (Jan. 31, 2012) --</strong></a> On the eve of Florida's primary, Romney led his supporters in a singing of the patriotic song. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
Successful (Drake, Lil Wayne)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/19/mitt-romney-tax-returns_n_1217708.html" target="_hplink"> <strong>CHARLESTON, S.C. (Jan. 19, 2012) -- </strong></a> During CNN's GOP debate, Romney refused to commit to disclosing his tax returns, offering no apologies for his success. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
Bye Bye Bye ('N Sync)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/09/mitt-romney-i-like-being-able-to-fire-people_n_1194115.html" target="_hplink"><strong>NASHUA, N.H. (Jan. 9, 2012) -- </strong></a> In a speech about insurance options, Romney tells audience members, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." (Photo:AP/Charles Dharapak)
Don't Know Why (Norah Jones)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/28/mitt-romney-embraces-climate-change-denial_n_1063905.html" target="_hplink">PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Oct. 27, 2011) --</a></strong> Back in June 2011, Romney said humans are somewhat tied to climate change. By October, he had reversed course, saying "We don't know what causes climate change." (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)