The Romney Legacy: A Rambler American
My father was a fan of George Romney, both as an auto exec and politician. Romney's appeal as an auto industry captain was his innovative simplicity and defiance of the Big Three gas-slurping, art deco, tailfin leviathans. Romney was a champion of the American Motors Rambler lineup-- cheap, functional, utilitarian small compacts touting fuel efficiency.
Ramblers also enjoyed the reputation as boring econo-boxes with quirky engineering -- the "E-stick" transmission, a 3-speed manual with a hydraulic/electrical clutch but no pedal, and stainless steel bumpers. My father, until then a Chevy man, was smitten. A new 1962 Rambler American convertible appeared in our driveway on a Saturday morning.
Iconoclast and anti-climactic all wrapped up in a single package. Who but George Romney would have dared flirt with the absurdity of a Rambler convertible --
-- matching a 127 hp six-cylinder-powered nerd-mobile with pretensions of pizzazz? Oh, the inhumanity of forsaking a new Chevy Impala convertible with a 300-horse 327 motor for what only a discerning Popular Science proletariat pragmatist could love.
My father's misgivings about the integrity of the Rambler E-stick transmission were swept aside by his whimsical conviction that George Romney himself would be the service tech mechanic behind the desk at the AMC dealership where our '62 American would habitually visit. George Romney's personality and character meant more to my father than celebrity and curb appeal.
Of course, about the time my father made his entry into the notorious Rambler owners' logbook, George Romney quit American Motors to pursue big-time politics as governor of Michigan. George Romney carried that same honesty, decency, integrity, and optimism to his tenure as Michigan's governor for two terms.
As governor, George Romney parlayed those typical Republican virtues -- fiscal restraint, moderate taxes, strong economic growth, distrust of the welfare state but willingness to invest in government just big enough to be effective -- onto the national scene, garnering admiration and support from fellow Governors Nelson Rockefeller (New York) and William Scranton (Pennsylvania). Romney championed civil rights, equal economic opportunities, and accessible educational options. He was energetic and earnest, unapologetic for his sincerity, an indefatigable advocate of private charity and volunteerism. And like Will Rogers, George Romney "never met a man he didn't like," except for Barry Goldwater.
So, my father transferred his admiration for George Romney the American Motors CEO to George Romney the Republican presidential contender.
An independent free thinker of sorts, son of a dairy farmer in western New York State and beneficiary of FDR's rural electrification, my father, also a WWII veteran of the European Theater, would always be grateful to Harry Truman for dropping the Big Surprise on Hiroshima. Yet when given the choice between Republican Ike and Democrat Adlai Stevenson, he considered Stevenson as a somewhat aloof intellectual surrounded by likely Soviet sympathizers, while Ike was...well, Ike.
By 1968, Ike had no political progeny. Barry Goldwater, soundly thumped by LBJ in 1964, was toxic, too strong an ideologue, and Richard Nixon too dishonest, lacking any charm or warmth. George Romney was just right. The only obstacle to Romney's 1968 presidential bid was his "brainwashing" gaffe re: Vietnam, a truth uttered before truth-telling about Lyndon Johnson's conduct of that war became fashionable.
Thus, George Romney exited American politics, and he took with him decency, simplicity, personal responsibility, ability to build coalitions and get things done, and a personal philosophy of open competition and opportunity.
And so, his son Mitt inherited his father's DNA in temperament and values. But now, the question hovers -- do American voters have any lingering attachment to decency, simplicity, personal responsibility, and opportunity?
If current polling is reliable, apparently at least half of likely presidential voters will militantly repudiate decency, simplicity, personal responsibility, and opportunity -- the struggling but noble legacy of George Romney. Instead, they can't get enough of the hopeless canards from Barack Obama -- a divisive, deceptive, mischievous, lying mountebank who vilifies individual responsibility, initiative, and achievement. A champion of collectivism and suffocating big-government intrusion. The antithesis of decency, integrity, and optimism, who couldn't be more culturally and morally alien to the slice of Americana -- George Romney -- that Americans across the political spectrum at one time admired.
The worlds of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney couldn't be farther apart. One, a protégé of Frank Marshall Davis, communist and radical provocateur, vs. the other, whose father actually endured a hardscrabble life as a boy and young man, yet later leveraged free enterprise, competition, ingenuity, and private generosity into the trademark of American exceptionalism. All that Obama despises.
America is still a center-right society, perhaps by only a slim margin. But enough voters are eaning in the right direction for Mitt Romney to drill, tap, and connect, as he showed us a few days ago in Pennsylvania, with his best stump performance so far. Mitt Romney can never diminish the legacy of his father by forcefully insisting on its resurgence to salvage the American economy and way of life.
George Romney may have been pedestrian and the anti-celebrity. His Rambler American won no design awards at the Detroit Auto Show, nor whisked Hollywood glitterati to the Academy Awards. But the alternative today isn't the Chevy Impala convertible. It's the government-issue, Soviet-inspired, East German-built Trabant, the looming legacy of Barack Obama.