Sometimes, the best way to understand the son is to study the father.
During the past few days, we have all had ringside seats at the very public self-destruction of Republican presidential candidate Mutt Romney.
Everyone knows what he did, because we saw it, and how he did it, because we heard it, but there has been very little public discussion about why Mitt Romney behaves the way he does.
Romney's life can be summarized in just a few word: Mormon Missionary, Harvard Law, Harvard Business School, Bain, Bain Capital, 2002 Olympics, Governor of Massachusetts....but, once he left that office in 2007, Romney's sole occupation has been running for president.
Why does a man who is sitting on a huge fortune want to be president of the United States? What force drives someone in late middle age to want the burdens of that office? (Have you noticed how the really, really rich don't want to run for office; they want to own the office-holders.)
Well, Romney doesn't want to be president of the United States; he simply wants to become president of the United States. He wants the office. He doesn't want the job.
Evidence of this can be found throughout the organization of his campaign. Everything he says and does is aimed at winning the office, but he never says anything concrete about how he would accomplish his objectives once in office.
Candidates like to talk about what they want to do. They don't like to talk about how they propose to accomplish those objectives....but that's what leaders do. And, in this case, there's not much to talk about because there aren't any palatable solutions, and no one is going to vote for someone who promises to raise taxes AND cut spending, which is the only way we are going to get out of this mess.
No one with Romney's business background can be as stupid as he pretends to be. When he espouses the Republican Party line about how cutting taxes will revive the economy, he knows that he lying because he knows that the trickle-down theory is a fraud. Since he obviously knows that the Republican economic policy is doomed to fail, the fact that he is willing to campaign on that platform anyway indicates that he's more interested in winning than he is in ruling.
But that still doesn't answer the question of why Romney wants the job.
So we are left with this conclusion: he wants the role, not the responsibility. That's why Paul Ryan is on the ticket, to take over when Romney bails out, as he will.
The reason why is simple enough: He wants to be president because he was emotionally devastated when the father he apparently worshipped failed to win the Republican Nomination for President in 1968, losing the nomination to Richard Nixon.
Unlike Mitt, George Romney was the real thing, a genuinely modest self-made man who grew up in the rough, pulling himself up from his family's genteel poverty to become a successful businessman, only to give up his highly lucrative position as Chairman of American Motors, a company that he had helped build from the ground up, to become the very successful and very popular Governor of Michigan.
In business, Romney was an atypical CEO, an earlier version of Lee Iacocco, without the ego. He built American Motors around a philosophy of making economical, ecological cars long before either product had become a public "want." He opposed the growth of Big Business and Big Labor, and spoke frequently before Congress about the necessity for breaking up the Big Three to open up the automobile industry to more aggressive competition. Long before the Japanese invasion, Romney foresaw the intrusion of European and Japanese car makers into the American market and designed smaller, more affordable cars as a pre-emptive defense against them. He invented the phrase, "gas-guzzling dinosaurs."
He also cut executive salaries by 35% , fended off corporate raider Louis Wolfson's attempts to take over American Motors, implemented one of the nation's earliest employee profit-sharing plans, and developed a close working relationship with the legendary United Auto Workers president, Walter Reuther
As if that was not enough, he championed civil rights, decried housing discrimination, organized Citizens for Michigan, a community organization effort, and was instrumental in the upset victory of 1959 statewide education reform referendum authorizing a $90 million bond issue and concomitant tax increase.
With all that on his resume, he was considered a shoe-in for the Republican nomination for senator in 1960, but he elected to serve as vice president of Michigan Constitutional Convention that was called in response to a petition drive he spearheaded to liberalize the state's outdated constitution.
In other words, he put community service above personal ambition.
As Governor of Michigan from 1962-1968, he overhauled the state's economy, greatly expanded the size of state government, from $550 million in 1963 to $1.3 billion in 1968, and instituted the state's first income tax. Romney used bipartisan coalitions to create a comprehensive system of higher education, significantly increase state support for local government, as well as increasing state-funded benefits for the poor and unemployed while using his bipartisan consensus to maintain the level of state government services.
The similarities between these two men are as obvious, and so are their differences.
Both men served as missionaries. Both men built successful businesses from scratch. Both men left the business world at the height of their success to become involved in public service. Both men took un thankless public service roles. Both men served as governors. Both men were able to achieve a high degree of bipartisan cooperation to accomplish some remarkable achievements during their terms of office.
So, in these respects, his father's life has been a template for the son's life.
The differences between them are just as telling:
George Romney walked away FROM a fortune in order to devote his life to public service. Mitt Romney walked away from Bain Capital WITH a fortune in order to devote his life to public service.
In his business career, George Romney built up a major American manufacturing company from scratch, providing thousands of high paying union jobs, and defended that company against all comers with such success that he is still regarded as a hero among auto workers.
Mitt Romney built a business that invests in companies, builds them up, loads them with debt, and then breaks them up again, selling off the profitable units and closing down the losers and walking away from the accumulated debt.
George Romney championed civil rights, fair housing practices, worker's rights, profit sharing plans, low cost public higher education, and used the power of the state government to bolster the economy by updating the infrastructure and maintaining the number of public sector jobs in Michigan.
On the other hand, we don't exactly know what Mitt Romney stands for, except for his steadfast support for tax cuts for the rich and tax increases for the poor.
The crucial difference between the father and the son is that, in business and in public service, George Romney championed civil rights, worker's rights, implemented profit-sharing plans, reflecting his working class origins, while Mitt Romney champions the rights of the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer.
The odd thing about this comparison is that it become increasingly obvious that Mitt Romney is pursuing the exactly opposite agenda from the one his father followed throughout his life.
In attempting to revenge his father's rejection by the Republican Party in 1968, Mitt Romney may be following the law of opposites which dictate that, if you don't win with good policies, maybe you can win with bad ones.
Having seen the Republican Party reject his "too liberal for us" father, perhaps Mitt Romney was trying to be as Republican as possible without taking into account the monstrosity that the Republican Party has become.
In today's political atmosphere, George Romney wouldn't be welcome in the Republican Party. As a matter of fact, he might be too liberal for today's Democratic Party.
It's a mystery how such a father raises such a son but there's no question that most of us would prefer the father to the son. As a matter of fact, when you get right down to it, some of us would prefer George Romney to Barack Obama.