I’ve been experiencing some exquisite schadenfreude over the accusations and counteraccusations of the Republican presidential hopefuls. Lately the long knives are out on Romney accusing him of never having worked an honest day in his life. I am here to tell you this is not true. I know because I was Mitt Romney’s boss. Don’t laugh. This is not one of those archly sardonic blog posts that my loyal followers have come to expect in “Ask the Agent”.
Before Romney was a conservative Republican presidential candidate, before he was a liberal Republican governor, before he was in charge of the Salt Lake City Olympics, before he either created or destroyed tens of thousands of jobs at Bain Capital, Mitt worked for me.
Back in 1962 when I was 16 years old and living in Detroit, I decided to get a little practical experience in politics and went to work for the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Michigan. The candidate was George Romney, who had been the president of American Motors. He actually coined the term “compact car” which he used to describe the Nash Rambler.
Republicans were different back then. Some of them weren’t so bad. And Romney was better than most. He was an ardent supporter of civil rights. He had a pretty enlightened attitude toward the labor movement. He was a problem solver, not an ideologue. He ran for president in 1968 but was defeated for the Republican nomination by Nixon. Romney made the mistake (I would say he had the honesty) of admitting that he had been brainwashed about Viet Nam. That did him in. There were a lot of people like Romney in the Republican Party back then. They weren’t perfect by any means. Their great flaw was that they had a certain complacency and a narrowness of outlook, probably as a result of spending too much time with their buddies playing golf at the country club. But still, they were for the most part decent practical men. Most of them have abandoned the GOP now and left it to the lunatics.
Back to my story. I went down to Romney headquarters in an office building near the Detroit River. I was designated the person to run the mimeograph machine (no Xeroxes back then). It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it. One day another 16 year old showed up and I had to train him in the art and science of mimeography. That person was the candidate’s son, Mitt Romney. Actually I was only his boss for about an hour. After I showed him how to use the mimeograph, we worked together and continued to do so for the next few months –as equals.
I’d like to be able to tell you that the child is father to the man, that even then I was able to see the chameleonlike nature of Mitt that has become so manifest in his search for the ultimate prize. I’d like to be able to tell you that when we were in a room with one group of people, Mitt would say that mimeographs were enshrined in the Constitution by our founding fathers. But when we were with others, he would say that mimeographs were part of a sinister liberal conspiracy to turn America into a socialist hell like North Korea or France.
But that would not be true. Mitt and I had a pretty good time that summer. We sort of yucked it up in the mimeograph room, talked about teenage stuff, went out to lunch together, that sort of thing. He was pretty down to earth for a guy who’s father was running for governor. That was admirable, although it probably speaks more to the character of his parents than to him.
I wish that Mitt had become more like his dad, George. I think America would be a better place. And the Republican Party would certainly be a more responsible political institution. But if he were more like George Romney, then Mitt wouldn’t really be a viable Republican candidate for president, would he? Actually, now that I think about it, if he were more like George Romney, he’d probably be a Democrat.