Romney and the '60s
The major Demo tactical effort against Mitt Romney is based on portraying him as a robotic, out-of-touch figure not much like other Americans -- at least not Americans of the 21st century. Romney is a creature of the 1950s, raised and indoctrinated within a Mormon cocoon, a man effectively living in a time warp. He uses words like "zany." His hair looks funny. He's been married to the same woman for nearly half a century. What kind of post-'60s American is this?
The key element here, repeated in piece after piece, is that Romney was "untouched by the '60s." Liberals tend to take this "touch" carried out by a decade -- a strange concept in and of itself -- in much the way in which fundamentalists take adult baptism: as a rite necessary to achieve salvation. Those who have not been "touched" are fringe figures, not at all part of the mainstream as defined in Ann Arbor, San Francisco, and the Upper East Side.
This thesis contains a number of assumptions, chief among them the idea that the '60s were a universal phenomenon, a decade that altered everyone who lived through it (except for the Mormons, presumably, protected by the desert on one side and the Great Salt Lake on the other), and all of them in the same way. That one-sided transformation involves a sharp shift to the left politically and to the flamboyant morally. Films telling of stiff, uptight, and uncool types who suddenly loosen up when exposed to "alternative lifestyles" (and become better persons for it!) have been a staple of Hollywood almost as far back as the decade itself. Despite the fact that nobody actually knows anyone who went through this process, it has become one of the chief myths of millennial America.
But in fact the '60s, like any other period, were far from monolithic, and did not hit everyone with the same impact, or shove them all in the same direction. Considering the variety of the human species, it would awfully strange if they had. What experience ever has the same effect on any random group? Why the '60s would be different is one of those things that is not so much left unexplained as deliberately ignored.
The '60s were a late-arriving decade. They began in 1964 with the appearance of the Beatles, followed the next year by the Watts riots. The early '60s were a different animal, extending trends begun in the '50s on a greater level of sophistication. The '59 to '63 period involved the internationalization of certain American tendencies. Those were the years of the New Frontier, the Italian-cut suit, bubble hairdos for women, the Jet Set, James Bond, Sam Cooke, and Dobie Gray. The aura was cool, controlled, suave, and debonair -- everything the rest of the decade was not.
The JFK assassination cut the cool years short and set the stage for the '60s of rock, riot, and rebellion. There's no need to go over all of it again. "New" documentaries appear at the rate of at least one a year featuring all the clichéd imagery -- Haight-Ashbury, flower kids, Sergeant Pepper, Woodstock, the Yippies, Charlie Manson -- and even more clichéd conclusions. There's no purpose in repeating them here.
But that wasn't all of it, by any means. Apart from Top 40 radio, most American had no contact with the wild-eyed aspects of the decade. How many attended Woodstock? Probably around a quarter-million. Not bad, but in no way comparable to the typical World Series or Super Bowl audience, either. The '60s were the decade of the freakout for only a small minority. It was, at the same time, also the decade of Barry Goldwater; George Wallace; William F. Buckley, Jr.; the Young Americans for Freedom; Barry Sadler; Glen Campbell; Rod McKuen; and let's not forget that exemplar of the unhip, Richard M. Nixon. There were, in truth, a number of 1960s, each nestled into another like Babushka dolls. Many of the alternate 1960s were by no means rebellious or shocking. Some of them, God forbid, were even boring.
These alternate 1960s have been not so much forgotten as plowed under the wave of self-generating nostalgia for the hippies, the Beatles, and the Summer of Love. But involving as they did far more people, the hidden '60s may well have had greater and more lasting impact.
There's a photo of Mitt Romney and his wife Anne as a young couple taken during the period. It's an interesting photo -- in many ways, a typical '60s shot of a typical '60s couple. Mitt's hair is mussed (I told you it was interesting), and he has the long sideburns of the period. For her part, Anne is wearing her hair in something close to the folkie "madonna" look of the day. (Think Joan Baez, not the current namesake.) Both are wearing cable-knit sweaters, typical gear for the nearly hip of the period.
This, like it or not, is a '60s look, quite common on college campuses and in middle-class neighborhoods. A lot more common, in fact, than the Frisco hippie look ever was. What it represented was something of a "middle way" -- acceptance of certain harmless aspects of the changes sweeping the country while rejecting the more bizarre and hostile elements. People in cable-knits were perhaps unlikely to march in favor of the issue-of-the-week. But they were just as unlikely to join the Manson commune. This middle path is one example of the alternate '60s, representing a healthy reaction to the social and political shakeups occurring during the period. It has been largely overlooked.
Another telling clue can be found in Romney's attitude. Many people, in rejecting the extremes of the '60s, went so far as to reject the decade in toto, refusing to grant that anything of value came out of the period. In truth, some changes were necessary (there's also the plain fact, almost always pushed aside by historians, that the rebellion of the decade was not directed at any conservative elite, which did not exist, but at the doctrinaire liberalism that had dominated the country since the '30s. The Yippies, hippies, et al. despised the liberals as much as anybody on the right, only in a different way.) These are the types who deliberately dress in pre-'60s clothing, adapt many of the more repellent attitudes and poses of the pre-deluge period (racism, anti-Semitism, contempt for women), and rant about "hippys" (which they misspell in exactly that way), as if there is any such phenomenon on the large scale in 21st-century America. It's not unusual for them to transfer this contempt to the country as a whole on the grounds that '60s values have "destroyed" the United States. These people tend to be overwrought and isolated, and more than a little strange.
We see none of this in Mitt Romney. Consider the recent contraceptive uproar, which was a trap carefully laid to catch Romney and none other. (The contraceptive question was first popped by George Stephanopoulos during a debate, and it was directed specifically at Romney.) Romney refused to bite, dismissing the matter as settled. Instead, Rick Santorum -- the prince of the embittered weirdoes -- jumped right in, and he spent the rest of his "campaign," I think they called it, banging against the walls of the Democratic elephant pit while thinking that he was on some kind of crusade.
So Romney was not at all unaffected by the '60s, and its influence on him appears to have been more healthy than otherwise. Like most of us, he took from the experience what he found useful and interesting. It does not seem to have shoved him detectably leftward. His politics is recognizably developed from that of his father. If anything, Romney appears to have taken his exposure to the '60s as an educational experience, in which he learned a number of things about human beings and society at large that he might not have encountered in any other way.
The key factor here is that this is exactly how most of the country responded. The freaks (not a disparaging term -- that's what they called themselves) were a vanishing minority. Most American took the '60s as they came, much in the way that Romney himself did. These people are still around, and they vote. They are apt to recognize Romney as one of themselves.