Thursday, August 30, 2012

No False Notes

I guess one of the things that attracted me to the study of history was its little (and not so little) ironies.

Sometimes the ironies are poignant. Sometimes they are humorous. Sometimes they are, well, ironic (I just can't seem to think of an appropriate synonym).

Four years ago, it was ironic that Barack Obama delivered his acceptance speech at his party's convention 45 years to the day since Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

I don't think anyone believed Obama would be a failure if he did not surpass King's performance. In the long–term perspective of history, both men will stand as symbols of progress in America.

But there may have been certain expectations that Mitt Romney had for himself before his speech in Tampa tonight. And, while his address likely will not be remembered as one of the great speeches of the 21st century, it was a workmanlike performance for a country hungering for a workmanlike leader.

In 2012, I suppose the way — or even whether — one defines the irony of Mitt Romney's nomination for the presidency this week depends upon where one sits on the political spectrum.

You see, it was 45 years ago tomorrow that Mitt's father, Michigan Gov. George Romney, a candidate (temporarily) for the 1968 Republican nomination, made his infamous assertion that he had been a victim of "brainwashing" during his trip to Vietnam nearly two years earlier.

George Romney's intention was to make the point that he had been deceived, just as the nation had been deceived, on the subject of Vietnam. And, if he had put it that way, he might well have been his party's nominee.

But his selection of the word "brainwashing" doomed his candidacy. It made him appear weak, easily manipulated and ill–prepared to stand up to the bad guys of the world.

That really seems to be a problem for the Romneys, this tendency to insert a single false note into what would otherwise be, if not inspiring, certainly adequate and sincere discussions of the issues of the day — and some that became faux issues because of those linguistic shortcomings.

But, I must confess, I heard no false notes in tonight's acceptance speech by Mitt Romney. Perhaps he exorcised the ghost of his father's "brainwashing" remark. After all, if George Romney had not used that word 45 years ago, he, not Richard Nixon, might have been the GOP's standard bearer in 1968.

Just think of it. America might have been spared the Watergate scandal — if not for that word. Would George Romney have felt compelled to drop out of the race if he had claimed that he had been deceived by the administration? Or that he had been led to believe things that were not true?

That "brainwashing" remark ended forever George Romney's dream of being president.

Tonight his son may have reclaimed his father's dream.

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