U.S. News, 1/31/2012
In conservative political folklore, the 1964 election was a crushing defeat that laid the philosophical groundwork that ultimately led to Ronald Reagan’s triumph.
No one likes to talk as proudly about 1968’s razor-thin election of Richard Nixon. It’s much more sanitary to take Sen. Barry Goldwater and skip straight to Reagan. But ’68 was at least as important as ’64, and maybe more so; it was that campaign that yielded the potent Southern strategy; the counter-counterculture; the full-throated resentment toward coastal elites. If ’64 was aimed at the conservative mind, ’68 was aimed at the conservative viscera.
The late Gov. George Romney, of course, was a minor figure in the drama of ’68. A moderate Rockefeller Republican, he would lose soundly to Nixon, the former vice president and California senator.
[See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney]
With all this in mind, I looked up one of my favorite modern political histories, Garry Wills’s Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man.
Here’s what Wills had to say about that era’s candidate Romney:
Romney built up a belief in his “nonpolitical” background: here was a man (men thought) who worked his way up in the business world and then—sincere novice amid deal-fettered pros—entered politics with the innocence of an outsider. The truth is that Romney began his career in politics, after three unsuccessful attempts (at three different schools) to get a college education. He went to Washington, in pursuit of his childhood sweetheart, the intense Lenore, and got a job as an aide to Senator David Walsh of Massachusetts. He did work on tariff bills that equipped him for a new career—a lobbyist for Alcoa, he spent nine years as a Washington glad-hander around Burning Tree Country Club and the National Press Club. Then he became an automobile lobbyist (on the carmakers’ Trade Advisory Commission), dealing with the National Recovery Administration. From this post he rose to become manager of the AMA (American Manufacturers Association)—an office that made him, in wartime, managing director of the Automotive Council for War Production. He had now spent nineteen years fronting for big business among politicians.
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