A post on The Politico suggests that we may be seeing deja vu all over again. Remember how many analysts concluded that George W. Bush respected his father, but when it came to his politics and behavior as President he was determined not to make the same errors as his politically-ill-fated dad and in several ways became the Republican anti-George H.W. Bush? We now see some of the same thing in former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose candidacy is — despite the conventional wisdom — looking as if it could wind up being one more super-hyped candidate whose hype fizzles amid the realities of hard-nosed politics:
Romney was profoundly affected by the way his more gregarious father’s political career was upended in an instant. George Romney, the governor of Michigan, said his early support of the Vietnam War was the result of “brainwashing” by generals. He was obviously speaking in the vernacular, not saying he had lost control of his faculties, but one clumsy comment helped derail his presidential ambitions in 1968.
The father’s setback wounded the son. Mitt Romney has called his father the “”the definition of a successful human.” The centerpiece of the current Romney campaign bus is a large poster of the elder Romney.
As much as he reveres his dad, Romney is determined not to make the same mistake his father did and commit a rhetorical blunder. So he only shows so much of himself, according to those who know him, determined to never have his own “brain-washing” moment.
“The shadow of that looms over every word he’s said,” according to a strategist on the 2008 campaign. “He’s afraid if he slips up, he’ll square the tragedy.” A current adviser echoed the 2008 strategist.
“He’s very guarded when he thinks the press are listening. He grew up in the shadow of his dad making one slip-up and forever paying for it,” said the adviser. “So he has a force field.” In an interview with Boston Globe reporters that appears in a new book, “The Real Romney,” one of the candidate’s sisters opened up about the matter. “The ‘brainwash’ thing – has that affected us? You bet,” said Jane Romney. “Mitt is naturally a diplomat, but I think that made him more so. He’s not going to put himself out on a limb. He’s more cautious, more scripted.”
All of us who were fortunate enough to have grown up with fathers were influenced by them. Sometimes in good ways, sometimes in not so good ways. Sometimes we are more expansive due to our upbringing, sometimes more inhibited. Some of us become more confident as adults and teens, some of us lack confidence as adults and in some areas are more withdrawn.
But there is an influence and an impact. George W. Bush loved his dad but didn’t want to wind up like him politically and also seemingly wanted to put a “FIN” on Saddam Hussein and his regime because he considered it unfinished business. Romney is seemingly undergoing the same struggle. History will rank the first George Bush higher than the second.
If Romney’s path continues the way it’s going, in the end the two Romneys will be seen as a pair of political Edsels.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.