Washington Post writer E.J. Dionne is being much quoted in the blogosphere for his comments last week, comparing Mitt Romneyʻs values with his fatherʻs. Itʻs an interesting way to look at authenticity in a presidential race — how Romneyʻs not living his fatherʻs legacy.
“TAMPA, Fla.: In 1964, George Romney, then the governor of Michigan, walked out of the Republican National Convention during Barry Goldwater’s acceptance speech. He was protesting his party’s sharp turn rightward and its weak platform plank on civil rights.
This week, 48 years on, Mitt Romney is set to achieve what his father never could. But this great family triumph will not represent a vindication of his father’s principles. Mitt Romney reached the summit not by battling the GOP’s staunchest conservatives but by accommodating them. Nothing better captures the absolute victory of the forces of Goldwaterism than a Romney triumph on the basis of Goldwater’s ideas.”
Itʻs a fascinating way to look at authenticity in leadership. Itʻs not that the presidential candidate needs to be just like his father — itʻs different generations, different paths. Dionne writes:
“Nowhere is it written that a son must follow his father’s political creed, and the times that shaped Mitt Romney were very different from the post-World War II era of social solidarity that set George Romney on his course in business and politics. The capitalism of Bain is not the capitalism of the auto industry during the ’50s and ’60s in which the elder Romney made his mark.
And to get to the top of a far more conservative GOP, Mitt Romney had to make his peace with the tea party, the Christian Coalition, the Club for Growth and all the other forces that have produced the most radically individualistic brand of politics our country has seen since the Gilded Age.”
There it is. The times have changed from social solidarity in the past Republican party to “radical individualism.” No wonder the way weʻre talking about authenticity has everything to do with what people say, the spin they turn about who theyʻve been — not what theyʻre doing, not who theyʻre being, and certainly not the complexity of their relationship to where they came from.
In campaigns, if we do “spin” peopleʻs actions and inheritance,we talk about what makes them unique, stand-out, how they “rose above” — for example, being a successful, maverick businessman inspired by the lessons of growing up poor with a single bootstrap mom. Or whatever helps a leader prove they know something we “followers” donʻt. And that needs to be something we believe is “real,” not spin or ideology, or even values.
We donʻt like to talk about contradictions, historical, parental or otherwise. And paradox, being the most common condition of our time, is where our authenticity is tested and developed.
So letʻs talk about the places where and why leaders diverge from our “family values,” our cultural, personal and social inheritance. Letʻs pay attention to the transformations hiding behind the spin.
Above all, letʻs accept the fact that our leaders have to be able to change, have personally changed, and will change — and yet can remain authentic throughout as long as we are measuring authenticity as sustaining a recognizable, flexible self throughout the paradoxes of our time.
So what does this mean about Romneyʻs authenticity? I donʻt know. Itʻs hard to see him behind all the hype and spin, and whatʻs readable of his record doesnʻt tell me a lot about whether or not heʻs authentic. Dionneʻs interesting comparison of the difference between the fatherʻs convictions and Mittʻs bow to conservative push-pull gives us something to think about, a glimpse, maybe, into the evolution (or de-evolution?) of the man behind the Romney mask.