Last night, January 19, 2012, The Boston Globe, the biggest and most influential newspaper in New England, pulled out all the stops for two of their best and brightest reporters; Michael Kranish, deputy chief of the Washington bureau of The Boston Globe and Scott Helman, staff writer at The Boston Globe. The occasion was the release of their new biography of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the likely Republican presidential nominee.
First, my compliments to The Boston Globe. The special reception before a panel on der Mittster was nicely done and gave us all the opportunity to meet the authors and chat with them. The helpers were all efficient, polite, unobtrusive. Perfect.
It looked like a long evening until….
I sought out Michael Kranish first; he seemed like the senior member of the team and I try to get what I need for my article out of the way as soon as possible, so that I can sit back and enjoy the event. I told Kranish I had three brief questions for him.
First, would Romney ever be president? His unpromising answer: “It’s possible. It could happen.” This was not the incisive, insightful comment I was looking for… and suggested the possibility of a very long evening in the making, one to be ditched as soon as I’d eaten more of their fine brie.
Question 2: will Mormonism be an issue in the campaign? “In some places it could be,” he answered. OMG! It was indeed going to be a very long evening.
But I said I wanted to ask him three questions… and it wasn’t over until it was over. I ventured my third query. “What was the most unexpected thing about Romney you discovered in your research”? Then the intriguing answer, “What happened at Stanford University” when he was a student there during the Vietnam War, the war that derailed his father’s presidential campaign. Ok, this was something promising… at last.
Of father brainwashed and campaign imploded.
Mitt Romney (born 1947) had as his dad a human dynamo called George Romney, celebrated as the rescuer of American Motors (which gave me my push button Rambler in high school), governor of Michigan, member of the Nixon cabinet; a man who rightly thought he had a superb shot at being president of the Great Republic… until…
… he went to Vietnam, where he got star treatment and massive misinformation about how the war was going, how we’d win, how the people loved us, and enough manure to fertilize Connecticut. He came back to America feeling like a fool; then shot himself through the head when he claimed the military had “brainwashed” him. His presidential campaign ended the minute the words were out of his mouth. Nobody wanted as president a man who could be controlled by the military or anyone else. And so George Romney’s career ended… providing his son with a lifetime of lessons about what not to do… including the vital necessity to avoid the media whenever possible.
On his way back from Vietnam, Pere Romney stopped to visit Mitt at Stanford… where this devoted son got the opportunity to talk to his father about Life, War, God… of winning, losing, what’s important and what isn’t. It’s the kind of conversation one has with a parent once in a lifetime… and Mitt took it all in and to heart. He would, he vowed, revenge what had happened to his father… being sure to derive all the proper lessons from this seminal event, including the absolute need in his life for God, the God of the Mormons…
To understand Mitt Romney, you must appreciate the importance and influence of his Mormon faith. It has provided the sinews of his life while isolating him from other people; people who often disdained his religion, calling it a “cult” and worse. Mitt learned to be private, very private, about his religion…letting very few people into that side of himself. Privacy, particularly privacy about his faith, became an obsession… something that may have connected him with God… but most assuredly estranged him from his fellow men, the people he’d need if he was ever to run for president.
What further separated him from the run of mankind was money… he made awesome amounts of it, largely through what are called leveraged buy-outs. This is a practice whereby investors buy a company, with the intention of doing everything they can to make it as profitable as possible, as quickly as possible; so they can sell the whole or its parts, often for staggering return on investment. This almost always involves the firing of employees in an attempt to decrease expenses and increase efficiency. Here Mitt Romney was king; a paragon who knew the delights that come when making only millions in a day was “bad” compared to the brilliant days, and plenty of them, when you made tens, even hundreds of millions lickety-split. Such days did absolutely nothing to connect him with mere mortals… and presented a problem he has still not been able to solve. Every time he got richer, Mitt got more disconnected… and less electable.
So, here we’ve got a candidate with a perfect marriage, 5 sons made by Disney, nary a scandal to be had… richer that God Himself… super bright… the hardest worker on the planet… but a loser for all that, because he just cannot connect with people and their everyday concerns to save his life.
Thus as I roamed the thin crowd talking with people, who were very keen to be asked their opinion about Mitt and his prospects, the temperature never rose above “tepid.” Yes, right smack dab in the middle of Boston, capital of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that Mitt had reigned over as governor (2003-2007), he couldn’t have thrown off less heat. And so, the people whom he needed so desperately to make him president evinced absolutely no excitement at all, much less any abiding glow.
And you could see this puzzled authors Kranish and Helman because their unauthorized biography (without a single interview with Mitt), into which they had poured time, life and commitment could only go as far as its subject, and not an inch more. If he sailed into the White House, their book (which I made sure they both autographed) would have the legs most political books never do, but if the world was as lukewarm as the folks in their audience, their $30 book (praised though it was by the usual East Coast media suspects) was DOA…
That’s why they came back to this point several times: awkward and disconnected as Mitt was in public, he was in private something of a cut-up (of the wonk variety), a man who could tell a story, give a hug, engage… even (and this arrested my attention for sure) moon walk while singing tunes from the Grateful Dead, tunes like “There’s Whiskey In The Jug”, an odd favorite for a tea-totalling Mormon:
“Mush-a ring dum-a do dum-a da Whack for my daddy-o. Whack for my daddy-o There’s whiskey in the jar.”
But this, though it made me smile and nod my head in wonderment was not the highlight of the evening. That was the rapt attention and joy in Aime Joseph. You see Mr. Joseph is my driver, a Haitian by birth, obsessed with American politics, always quizzing me about political people and their measures. He dressed up for this event, and imbibed every word with the utmost focus and concentration. “We have nothing like this in Haiti,” he said as I gave him the present of a lifetime, an autographed copy of the book. And when he saw me about to drop it, he grabbed it from my hand, the better to ensure it did not fall; chiding me for lack of care with this valuable artifact.
And I saw so clearly what was the best part of all: the fact that this kind of forum, this kind of book, this kind of open dialogue and honest conversation still was foreign to most of the world… and the thing we should be most proud of, our gift to the world and our collective future.
Now, go to any search engine and find “Whiskey in the jug,” and imagine Mitt moon walking to it… If there’s enough whiskey in the jug, that should be no problem.
*** What do you think? I invite you to post your comments below.