03/26/2012 03:43 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Romney Versus Romney

Governor Romney was blunt:

We need only look at the experience of some ideologically oriented parties in Europe to realize that chaos can result. Dogmatic ideological parties tend to splinter the political and social fabric of a nation, lead to governmental crises and deadlocks, and stymie the compromises so often necessary to preserve freedom and achieve progress. A broad based two-party structure produces a degree of political stability and viability not otherwise obtainable.... A political party which drops from 35,000,000 votes in 1960 to 27,000,000 votes in 1964 has certainly narrowed its orientation and support. The party's need to become more broadly inclusive and attractive should be obvious to anyone.

2012-03-22-GeorgeandMittat1964WorldsFair.jpg Those are the words not of Mitt Romney but of his late father, George Romney. In December 1964, when he was governor of Michigan and a leading moderate in the Republican party, he wrote an extraordinary 12-page letter to Senator Barry Goldwater, the Arizona Republican who had lost the presidential election in a landslide to President Lyndon Johnson the month before. In that letter, he explained in detail why he had refused to endorse Goldwater during the general election.
At the Republican Convention in San Francisco in July of that year, Gov. Romney tried without success to persuade Sen. Goldwater and their fellow Republicans to support civil rights legislation. Recalling his failed attempts to open the eyes of the candidate and the GOP to the profound injustices of racism, Romney told Goldwater:

You were just about to take a position on the 1964 Civil Rights Act contrary to that of most elected Republicans in and out of Congress, and there were disturbing indications that your strategists proposed to make an all-out push for the Southern white segregationist vote and to attempt to exploit the so-called "white backlash" in the North. The [convention] delegates' mail was beginning to contain much of what I'm sure you would regard as "extremist," "hate" literature backing you.

He recalled in that letter the presentation he had made to the platform committee at the Republican Convention:

My testimony specifically urged, among other rights, that the platform pledge Federal, state, local and individual action to promote the civil rights of all Americans. I also urged the repudiation of extremists who might attach themselves to the party or its candidates. My proposals were subsequently presented in written form to the Platform Committee in debate and were rejected....

With extremists of the right and left preaching and practicing hate, and bearing false witness on the basis of guilt by association and circumstantial rationalization, and with such extremists rising to official positions of leadership in the Republican party, we cannot recapture the respect of the nation and lead it to its necessary spiritual, moral and political rebirth if we hide our heads in the sand and decline to even recognize in our platform that the nation is again beset by modern "know nothings."

As his letter makes clear, George Romney did not cower before the right-wing extremists who, 48 years ago, had begun their takeover of the Republican party. He remained a beacon of decency and common sense. His son, by contrast, has the constancy of a weather vane, reflexively flipping this way and that to appease the far right that now owns the erstwhile party of Lincoln.

When Sandra Fluke, a 30-year-old law student, recently testified before Congress about the importance of including birth control among the health care options provided for women, she was attacked by Rush Limbaugh, the unelected but indisputable head of the GOP, who called her a "slut" and "prostitute." Asked for his reaction to Limbaugh's vicious remarks, Mitt Romney chickened out: "It's not the language I would have used.''

Just one generation separates the two Romney men, but they could hardly be more dissimilar. George Romney stood up to the GOP's right-wing extremists, including his party's presidential candidate, while his son trembles before the loutish Limbaugh. Though Mitt Romney may carry his father's DNA, he failed to inherit his father's spine.

Mitt Romney belongs to a Republican party his father would not recognize -- a party that disdains science, spouts mindless talking points and has no apparent goal beyond the destruction of the incumbent Democratic president.

2012-03-22-GeorgeRomneyGrossePointe1.jpgAs governor of Michigan from 1963 to 1969, George Romney proved himself a man of principle. In his first year in office, he led a march through the streets of Grosse Pointe, perhaps the wealthiest and whitest suburb in the state, to protest housing discrimination against African Americans. He was also a political pragmatist who worked with Democratic legislators to increase state spending on education and financial assistance to help the unemployed and the poor.

Given his fierce independence and willingness to take on his own party, one wonders what he would make of the men running today for the Republican presidential nomination. Newt Gingrich wants to colonize the moon.
Rick Santorum would boldly take us back to the manifold glories of the Dark Ages.

And Mitt Romney? Apart from lowering taxes, he has nothing to offer the nation but his knee-jerk opposition to whatever President Obama has done or might propose to do.

The elder Romney is no longer here to advise his son, but in his letter to Goldwater, he offered an observation -- a timeless warning -- that his son and other Republicans would do well to heed:

I do not believe we can prevent unsound solutions to current problems by sheer opposition. My experience convinces me we must present sound solutions based on applying our proven principles to current problems in the development of specific, positive programs.