The parallels between Mitt Romney and his father, George — both businessmen, both Republican governors of blue states, both presidential candidates — make for tantalizing psychological comparisons. ¶ Is the younger Romney less concerned about economic fairness than was his late father, who helped create Michigan’s first income tax and famously returned a big bonus when he was chief executive of American Motors? Does Mitt’s cautious style reflect the bitter experience of George, whose 1968 presidential run collapsed after he used the term “brainwashing” to explain his early support for the Vietnam War?¶ Such speculation can certainly be entertaining for political junkies hoping to glimpse the soul of a would-be president. However, the contrast between father and son reveals less about Mitt Romney’s state of mind than it does about America’s. If Mitt has a tin ear for the concerns of the needy, if he goes along with, rather than resists, the rightward turn of his party, he is simply mirroring the disturbing transformations of American business and politics in recent decades. In his public and private careers, the younger Romney has emulated the retreat of corporate elites and the Republican Party from the model of economic partnership and cross-party compromise that the elder Romney exemplified. ¶ At a moment when America needs both business innovation and effective oversight, vigorous growth as well as economic fairness, we would be better off with George, rather than Mitt, in the White House.
The first transformation involves the connection between the economy and the government. During the GOP presidential contest, Mitt Romney’s business career has come under scrutiny. Yet that career, like his father’s, typified the business world of his time. Bain Capital pioneered a corporate model in which individual companies were commodities ripe for restructuring. Partly by exploiting legal opportunities in the tax code, Bain could scrape off enormous resources even if the affected companies failed. Financial wizards were the masters of this new world — the “job creators” who, according to Romney and other GOP standard-bearers, should be unshackled through deregulation and ever more lavish tax cuts.