In Commerce Township last week, it was a sight to watch the education and political transformation of Republican presidential nominee Gov. Mitt Romney, once viewed as the Boston moderate who could insert sanity into our current diabolical political climate, now embrace extreme views of right wing politics, which have come to define the base of the Republican Party.
Fair enough. Commerce Township, roughly an hour away from Detroit, sits at the center of right wing politics and it was symbolic of why it hosted the first joint presidential campaign of Romney and his running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, in Michigan.
And in Commerce Township, what did Romney do?
He gave the roughly 5000 supporters in that Oakland County enclave red meat that they consumed, reassured that Romney is the living embodiment of their views — extreme views — totally outside the discourse of regular mainstream politics.
“No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised,” Romney said throwing red meat to the birther movement — the group of political activists who believe that the legitimate 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, is not American, and thus has no business in the White House.
Later, Romney tried to backtrack on his comments dismissing any suggestions that he was giving credibility to the birther movement, part of the Republican base that has been demanding Obama’s birth certificate. But it was late because with his remarks that smack of racism, Romney, had entered the birther movement through the back door at the Commerce Township rally.
The dog whistle politics that he used under the pretext of expressing pride in his Detroit roots for being born at Harper Hospital, was evident and says a lot about the candidate seeking to be president.
To decipher the conflicting candidacy of Gov. Mitt Romney is to bring to the fore the unbelievable, hopeful and respected legacy of his father, George Romney, who served as governor of Michigan from 1963 to 1969, a pivotal period of the Civil Rights Movement.
His father’s legacy is well documented in articles and books that have been written about the campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement. He was an unashamed and unafraid supporter of the movement for equal rights.
It is time for that story to be told as Mitt Romney moonwalks further and further away from his father’s legacy. Because there is a spurious political evolution happening in our national consciousness, where both candidates on the Republican ticket, Romney and Ryan, are evolving in strange ways before our eyes.
Romney is running away from the moderate politics of his father, George Romney, and Paul Ryan is evolving from the atheistic dogmas of Ayn Rand as he panders to the Bible-loving Evangelical Right in the deep South.
Is this what politics has come to in America today?
When he went before the NAACP, Mitt Romney had historical and political currency given his father’s legacy to show his understanding of the struggles of ordinary people, and connect their struggles to what his father stood for in the bitter days of Jim Crow.
Before the NAACP he had a golden opportunity that no other Republican presidential candidate in recent history has had in their experience: a father who was very visible on the political stage supporting equal rights for all. He blew the opportunity to connect.
Mitt Romney cannot deny what his father did out of his conviction to make a lasting political statement that all men are created equal and thus should be treated fairly in this democratic experience.
Is it realistic to think that Mitt Romney, in any serious and real way, can deny his father’s legacy by supporting proposals that contradict his father’s views? The health care law he passed in Massachusetts is consistent with the more liberal outlook that his father held. Because it afforded health care to those in the underprivileged class, similar to the one passed under President Obama.
Why then would this candidate now drastically move away from his father’s position and adopt Tea Party policies that are in diametric opposition to George Romney?
On some of the major issues of our day like the assault on voting rights in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, candidate Mitt Romney and his campaign have been conspicuously silent in rebuking Republican secretaries of state to halt the attack on voting that could deny minorities, including poor seniors, the right to vote in November.
How ironic that George Romney was a staunch supporter of the Voting Rights legislation that passed in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement.
Is Romney now a victim of political schizophrenia where the base of the Republican Party is forcing him into a state of split consciousness — where on the one hand embracing the birther movement and Tea Party politics that has sunk to a reprehensible all-time low, and on the other hand, he cannot deny his father’s views? This is nothing short of a split personality.
There is something genuinely likable about Mitt Romney. He is a family man and a successful businessman. When he first entered the presidential race I thought he was going to be a breath of fresh air by distancing himself from the inflammatory remarks like those of Donald Trump and the unjustifiable and vicious criticism of President Obama from such questionable quarters of extreme conservative punditry.
Even some friends of mine on both sides of the political spectrum, especially those on the Republican side, have expressed dismay and shock at the direction of the campaign of a man who has the historical credence that Republicans have long been seeking to attract a larger segment of the Black vote.
It is not the expectation that Mitt Romney becomes George Romney. But the weight of history and the political good sense of George Romney cannot be ignored when his son is running to become president of the United States. That his father’s legacy on equal rights for all was shaped in Detroit shows the importance of this urban center’s long political struggles and the challenges it presents for both presidential candidates in 2012.
Leading a march against housing discrimination in Gross Pointe against Blacks, George Romney said, “Until we eliminate inequality our words will have a hollow sound to the people of the world.”
Even against the advice of an official of the Mormon Church during Jim Crow, George Romney demonstrated a self-evident truth — that every human being is born free, equal in dignity and rights. A pointed 1964 letter steeped in the vestiges of racism of the early Mormon Church was sent to George Romney by an apostle of the church, Delbert L. Stapley, asking the then Michigan governor to reconsider his support for civil rights.
“After listening to your talk on civil rights, I am very concerned. Several others have expressed the same concern to me. It does not altogether harmonize with my own understandings regarding this subject. I felt, George, your views were most liberal on this vital problem in light of the revelations, but nevertheless, I cannot deny you the right of your position if it represents your true belief and feelings,” Stapley wrote.
Further down in the letter Stapley reminded George Romney saying, “I am sure you know that Prophet Joseph Smith, in connection with the Negro problem of this country, proposed to Congress that they sell public lands and buy up the Negro slaves and transport them back to Africa from whence they came. I am sure the prophet, with his vision and understanding, foresaw the problems we are faced with today with this race, which caused him to promote this program.”
For a man to step out side the theological doctrine shows the courage George Romney had.
When Barry Goldwater refused to support the Civil Rights Act of 1964, George Romney refused to support Goldwater’s candidacy for president at the 1964 Republican Party Convention where he (Romney) worked to push the party to go on record against discrimination.
In the book “Judgement Days,” Nick Kotz writes about Bloody Sunday and George Romney’ role in Detroit.
“In Detroit on Tuesday, Gov. George Romney, a Republican, and Mayor Jerome Cavanaugh, a Democrat, had led ten thousand marchers five times around the federal building to protest the brutality of Bloody Sunday,” Kotz wrote.
The 1967 edition of Harper’s magazine explained the special bond between George Romney and Dr. King in this way: “When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King marched in Detroit three years ago, Romney marched with him. He is proud that he helped write a state Constitution that has the most comprehensive civil rights guarantees in the nation, including open occupancy in housing.”
With such a forceful legacy, it is unimaginable how candidate Mitt Romney has turned to the extreme right of his party. It is glaringly clear that the positions of some of the speakers at this week’s Republican Convention would have been flatly rejected by George Romney. If he rejected Barry Goldwater then he would today reject those who opposed equal pay for women and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
For a man whose father supported equal rights, why would Mitt Romney do a semantical dance around women issues and a less than vocal support for the Lilly Ledbetter Act?
Bankole Thompson is editor of the Michigan Chronicle and author of a six-part book series on the Obama presidency. His book “Obama and Black Loyalty,” published in 2010, follows his recent book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty” with a foreward by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. Thompson is a political news analyst at WDET-101.9FM (NPR affiliate) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday evening roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York and simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut.