While Mitt Romney promised Thursday that "I'm not going to apologize for my dad's success" even as his campaign has worked to erase it from memory, portraying Romney's childhood as middle class despite little indulgences like a cook, a maid, and a laundress. Romney's presidential campaign -- like that of other political legacies like George W. Bush and Chris Dodd -- is marked by the candidate's desire to redeem the legacy of his father while making the exact opposite choices.
George Romney was gregarious; Romney is guarded. George Romney's principled positions on race hurt him in the Republican party; Romney is known for his flexibility on all kinds of issues. George Romney released 12 years of tax returns; Romney filed an extension, delaying the release of his most recent return.
Obviously, Romney's far from the first politician letting his father issues play out in such a public way. There was George W. Bush, of course, who was open and jokey and wore cowboy hats in contrast to his uptight Connecticut WASP dad. Nevertheless, the younger Bush clearly wanted to please the one-term elder Bush -- he famously said of Saddam Hussein, "This is the guy who tried to kill my dad." There's also the lesser-known case of former Sen. Chris Dodd, who ran for president in 2008, and whose dad, Todd, had been forced to quit the Senate in 1970 after being censured for misusing campaign donations. In 2009, The New Republic's Suzy Khimm explained:
The son, who arrived in the Senate ten years later, has spent his career pulled in two opposing directions: on the one hand, following in his father's footsteps by becoming one of the Old Bulls ensconced in Washington's corridors of privilege, the image that is now causing him such political headaches; but, on the other hand, presenting himself as the very antithesis of an old-style senator--a changemaker, a populist, an insurgent. Dodd, it seems, has never entirely decided whether he wants to be his father or what his father was not.
Romney talks about his dad all the time. His father's campaign poster hangs prominently on the Romney 2012 bus. In a February concession speech, he sounded emotional when talking about his dad's humble roots, how he could put nails in his mouth "and then, you know, spit them out, pointy end forward." It is hard to imagine the younger Romney doing such a thing. On his honeymoon, he put aluminum paint in the trunk of the car and sold it along the way to pay for the gas in the hotels. George Romney, the candidate said, "believed in America. And in the America he believed in, a lath and plaster guy could work out to become head of a car company and a guy who had sold aluminum paint out of his car could end up being governor..." He often tells the story of the time George was campaigning in Michigan and confused two towns, Mount Pleasant and Mount Clemens. Romney explained on Februrary 16, "And my Mom said, 'George, it's Pleasant.' He said, 'Yes, it sure is pleasant here in Mount Clemens.'" The crowd laughed. "So we can be a little slow on the uptake, too." Ouch: a nice little memory followed by a zinger.