By R.B. Scott
Note: this article was originally published by WBUR Cognoscenti
Boston, MA - Unlike his outspoken late father George, R.B. Scott says Mitt’s mode of political Russian Roulette is saying too little. In this photo, George Romney, left, and son Mitt Romney, right, in their Detroit, Mich., home in 1957.
Polls continue to indicate that about 20 percent of America remains reluctant to vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, like Mitt Romney. Nevertheless, Romney’s biggest problem isn’t religion – it’s his public persona.
Unlike his late father George, a naturally gregarious governor of Michigan and 1968 presidential candidate whose intemperate and explicit words condemning the Vietnam War cost him his party’s nomination, Mitt’s mode of political Russian Roulette is saying too little, too late and speaking in half-truths. Left untended, these often bloom as whole lies. Romney’s reluctance to pin himself down preemptively dates back to his first run for office in 1994, when he flatly refused to deal with the “Mormon Issue” before his opponent, Sen. Edward Kennedy, did. By then Kennedy was on his way to victory.
Team Romney has the money and horses to sustain a blistering campaign through November. Nevertheless, the candidate’s naive assumption that he can tightly control and manipulate the media may be his Achilles’ heel. Case in point: the cleverly precise but unnecessarily disingenuous statement that he left Bain Capital in 1999 to run the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee, even though Bain continued to list him as chief executive officer and a significant shareholder who benefited handsomely from the company’s performance.
The statement is “exactly” right. Seasoned executives are well aware that covenants in employment and separation agreements often allow senior officers to retain titles long after they have moved on. However, regular folk – people not part of the upper 1 percent – assume that a CEO runs the business and the chairman makes more than cameo appearances at board meetings. A thorough explanation at the outset would have headed off the current problems.
Unlike his outspoken father, Mitt’s mode of political Russian Roulette is saying too little.
Back in January, Romney nearly lost the nomination when he arrogantly teased that he may or may not release his annual income taxes. His father set the tax return precedent in 1968, when he produced financials for 12 years and encouraged other candidates to do likewise. It would have sufficed had Mitt responded boldly, “We will release the tax documents when they are ready. Because my income these days is from personal investments, the effective tax rate will be likely be around 15 percent; our charitable deductions include 15 percent to my church and about 10 percent to other charitable organizations.” A numbers guy like Mitt should be capable of making such estimates.
The differences with his father don’t seem to end there. Earlier this month Romney marched into the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) on a calculated mission. With the cameras rolling, he cued boos as he pledged to “do away with Obamacare.” No doubt the footage will be replayed at the Republican Convention in Tampa next month to prove that Romney has cojones, after all!
Strangely, not once did he mention his late father’s visceral civil rights leadership – white shirtsleeves rolled to the elbow, tie askew, perspiring profusely while leading marches through sweltering inner-city Detroit; rejecting firm entreaties from a Mormon apostle that he tone down his strident rhetoric and activities.
Instead, before a friendlier crowd in Montana, Mitt-the-son crowed: “When I mentioned [to the NAACP audience] I am going to get rid of Obamacare they weren’t happy, I didn’t get the same response [as I did from you]. That’s OK … But … your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy – for more free stuff. But don’t forget nothing is really free.”
What’s this? Favored son of George, a shrewd race-baiter?
Understand this. Mitt has yet to explain fully where he stood as a young adult on his church’s policy that until 1978 excluded men of African heritage from the Mormon priesthood. That day of accountability is surely coming. It would improve his credibility if he began to act like he was his father’s son – and soon.
After his serial performances before the NAACP and in Montana, and despite his striking physical resemblance to George, voters might be rightly asking Mitt: “Who’s your daddy?”