02/02/2012 02:33 pm ET | Updated Apr 03, 2012

Romney's Sad Identity Crisis

I am going to violate the Eleventh Commandment of the prep school old boy network: thou shalt not speak ill of thy brethren. While I do not support Mitt Romney politically, as a fellow son of Michigan and alumnus of the same suburban Detroit high school, I am proud that he is competing for the highest office in the land. However, it has been troubling to watch this former Winter Olympics chief perform an awkward quadruple Lutz away from his liberal Republican roots -- the health care regulating Massachusetts governor and scion of a respected progressive Republican governor -- and into the arms of Tea Party extremists.

Earlier this week, Romney said he was "not concerned about the very poor." To be fair, he added that America has "a safety net" such as food stamps and Medicaid that he would fix if it needed it. Unfortunately, this pledge defies the laws of gravity of today's Tea Party controlled Republican Party that is committed to ending government, not mending it. In the five years Romney has been running for president, he has never staged a Clintonesque "Sister Soulja" moment where he delivers a hard message to his political base: targeted, effective and robust government is good government. Instead Romney has fallen behind the pitch-forked mobs of GOP demagogues who believe that any government is evil government. If he can't summon the gumption to stand up for what he knows to be true as a candidate, why should the American people trust him to do right by them in the White House?

And what should we make of his professed focus on the middle class? As a man who built his fortune from buying and flipping companies, Romney knows all too well that the crisis facing the middle class did not start with President Obama's inauguration. He knows that while the seismic shifts in the American and global economies have produced some benefits such as great wealth for those at the top and cheaper goods for many in the middle and below, it has also produced pain, namely, a generation's long squeeze on middle class jobs and wages at a time when the cost of essentials such as health care and education have risen. What is the Romney prescription to heal the ailing middle class? A risky dose of policies that will leave them poorer and sicker:

  • preserving an ermine robed tax system that favors the very rich and burdens the middle class and working well off with mounting debt and a future of higher taxes; and
  • eliminating President Obama's health reform effort, drafted in the mould of his Massachusetts plan, which would deny health coverage to middle class families with pre-existing conditions, make it impossible for middle class parents to cover their young adult children, and continue forcing the insured to pay for the care of the uninsured through higher health care costs.

Perhaps Governor Romney is masquerading as a Tea Party stooge but hopes to govern as a tough moderate who will bring the right wing to heel? This is unlikely if his failure to tread the rugged path of right, which our school hymn implores us to do, and speak out during the GOP contest's more racially charged moments is anything to go by.

To be clear, when it comes to questions of race, Mitt Romney comes from impeccable stock. His father, George Romney, supported by his accomplished mother Lenore Romney (an aspiring actress, state first lady, and U.S. Senate candidate) championed civil rights throughout his life. As Michigan's governor in the 1960s, George Romney strengthened civil rights protections in the state's constitution and was a longtime ally of Dr. Martin Luther King. As a presidential contender, George Romney pushed the GOP to adopt a stronger civil rights platform. And as President Nixon's housing secretary, George Romney fought to make laws combating housing discrimination a reality in the lives of people of color.

That is why Mitt Romney's chronic case of political laryngitis is so sad. In Iowa, Rick Santorum said he did not "want to make black people's lives better." Newt Gingrich has repeatedly called President Obama a "food stamp president" and during a South Carolina debate questioned why folks should be offended by his saying African-Americans "should demand jobs, not food stamps." Ron Paul built a successful business off of race-baiting newsletters written under his name.

Did Romney slam Santorum before the Iowa caucuses, or since? No. Has he called out Gingrich and Paul during the debates? No. Has he added a line to his stump speech that old school racial code language has no place in today's Party of Lincoln? No. His conspicuous silence tarnishes his political inheritance and insults the vast majority of Republicans who have no truck with racial provocateurs and want to move the Party beyond its difficult racial legacy. While Romney's inaction in the heat of a primary contest is not a fair litmus test for his commitment to equality, it does provide insight into his ability to lead. A candidate who cannot summon the will to check his opponents on matters of race in today's more inclusive America will hardly have the spine in office to subdue the radical impulses of his party that would cause irreparable harm to the middle class and those aspiring to enter it. For his character's sake, Mitt Romney should aim high and hold himself to his father's standard of public service. For our country's sake, Republican primary and, possibly, general election voters should as well.