MARCH 5, 1962
“I know the frustrations and disappointments,” says George Romney. “I know the political game. It’s true that the Republican Party has permitted itself to be excessively identified with business. I do think, though, it’s a better situation than the Democrats have with their people, their organization and their money all coming from the unions. Labor has a tighter grip on the Democrats than business does on the Republicans. Of course, we’ve had a particularly bad problem in Michigan, with the UAW on one side and a handful of corporations running the Republican caucus.”
And the national picture?
“The same elements are present in the national Republican situation, but not in as advanced and acute a form. My main concern is the larger one that both parties are headed in the same direction of the centralized state. It’s like a family where there are two sons, and the family is going to take a trip. One of them says I’ll drive you there at 60 miles an hour and the other says. No, let me do it, but we’ll only go 40. In my book, we cannot go the way of centralized government and still fulfill the revolution started by Jesus the Christ and the founders of the United States.”
Talking with Romney and people who have been close to his rise as a lobbyist in Washington (ALCOA), trade association spokesman (the Automobile Manufacturers) and corporation president (American Motors), one soon concludes that the “new image” Romney wants to give the Republican Party would be all his own. He has some highly individual notions of what the country has to do, at home and abroad; and his own special operating style, which is to rearrange everyone else present in a constellation centering upon George Romney.
Though his sudden projection on the 1964 horizon has been compared to the Wendell Willkie phenomenon in 1940, Romney at close range is not “a Willkie” in the critical sense that he does not speak for eastern Republicanism. Willkie had an old shoe Indiana personality but represented cosmopolitan GOP forces in the intra-Party struggle with the rural and small town regulars. But for all of his smooth good looks and his maverick pronouncements, Romney cannot be typed as a “Modern” in contrast to an “Old Guard” Republican. He is a cross between the sophisticated businessman and the Fundamentalist preacher. The force of the religiosity that makes Romney offbeat and unpredictable cannot be doubted when one learns of boyhood years in Idaho and Utah almost wholly devoted to the Mormon commitment of his family; of his missionary years, his tithing, and his responsibilities today as president (archbishop) of the Michigan Stake of his Church. Romney’s religious dedication deserves the attention given in Sunday Supplement accounts of his life, for it is wholehearted, and it gives his thinking on matters of foreign policy a notably parochial twist.
If he wins election as Governor of Michigan this fall, Romney seems likely to take on a broadly inclusive, middle-of-the-road Republican identity and to claim the present Nixon role of Party unifier. He may consequently find himself strongly situated for the nomination in ‘64 - and ‘68 - whether or not Nixon wins in California. At first Nixon thought of Romney as a nice amateur who could front for him in ‘64 and then conveniently disappear; it was necessary for Nixon to be
for someone, if only to validate his campaign assertion that he would serve out all of a four-year term in California. Now the Nixon camp sees Romney as a potential rival for Party control, and one hears hopeful reminders that there will be pitfalls ahead, even if Romney should happen to be elected in November.
As Governor, Romney’s luster would no doubt fade somewhat under the unfriendly glare of Democratic and labor opposition. The Willkie analogy comes altogether apart in the contrast between the eight-week blitz of 1940 and the two brutal years of pre-convention exposure in store for Romney. By 1964 he will be a reasonably conventional political figure with known positions on the issues and a much more sharply defined Republican coloration. But the real article that appears before us when the mystique of the 62 model rubs off may prove to have a durable appeal for the Party and the country. For one so intense and so promotional, Romney wears rather well. He has a way of suffusing whatever he says and does with a sense of uplift and earnest purpose that inspirits admirers, disarms critics and compels normally hardbitten souls to acknowledge his “sincerity” even when the external facts of a situation might be cause for legitimate doubts.
Romney and Reuther
Walter Reuther and the politically sophisticated leaders of the United Automobile Workers still do not quite know what hit them. The story of how the UAW helped along the gradual political blossoming of Romney which preceded his announced candidacy for Governor
is not only a suggestive illustration of his mesmeric powers; it also ranks among the more astonishing chapters of American political folklore, for Romney’s election would destroy the work of 14 years in building UAW-Democratic power within Michigan, and his chief claim to the GOP nomination in ‘64 must lie in his reputation as the giant-killer who humbled Reuther.
When Romney took charge at American Motors in 1954 one of his first acts was to install a new vice president for industrial relations who happened to be on close personal terms with the Reuthers. The choice of Edward L. Cushman to handle his all-important bargaining with the UAW had much to do with Romney’s conversion of deficits into profits and accounts for the progressive relaxation of tensions in the Romney-Reuther relationship which contrasts so markedly with the cold war prevailing between top labor and management personalities in the rest of the auto industry. As director of the War Manpower Commission in Michigan and a Professor of Public Administration at Wayne University, Cushman, a top labor arbitrator, had come up in Detroit during the hard early years of the UAW. Both the hard and soft-boiled labor intellectuals around Reuther knew and trusted him as a literate and high-minded sort who respected what they were trying to do and was really not to be blamed for the misplaced belief that there were such things as socially-minded business executives.
Looking back, Cushman is frank to say that the American Motors offer tempted him in part as an opportunity “to interpret Reuther and Romney to each other.” There are those in labor and management alike who believe that Cushman has been much too successful for comfort. Within American Motors itself, Bernard A. Chapman, executive vice president in charge of manufacturing and engineering, has tried to obstruct such Cushman-Romney concessions as the profit-sharing plan embodied- in the 1961 union contract. On the labor side the most conspicuous skeptic has been August Scholle, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO Council, who is in the Which-Side-Are-You-On tradition and had his doubts from the start about the soft line on Romney laid down by Reuther, his former special assistant Jack Con way, now deputy director of the Housing and Home Loan Agency, and UAW vice president Leonard Woodcock.
What Cushman did was to lead both Romney and Reuther to the independent discovery that the other had a streak of selfless civic motivation and could not be written off as a lost cause either at the bargaining table, or for that matter, in the affairs of the state and the nation. In a wartime speech as managing director of the Automobile Manufacturing Association, Romney had spoken of Reuther as “the most dangerous man in America.” But addressing the American Bankers Association on October 25, 1959, he attempted to recant, praising certain cases of UAW “statesmanship in our situation” and explaining that “the Walter Reuther of today is a different Walter Reuther. I don’t know where Walter Reuther is going to wind up in the economic and political battles that are shaping up in America. It is not that he doesn’t have some of the ideas he had then, he does. However, he’s not advocating comparable programs of socialism. They still have some of it in them, but they’re not comparable.” Reuther later reciprocated on the occasion of the signing of the 1961 American Motors contract. Romney had made possible “the most significant and historic collective bargaining agreement ever written in the United States,” and Ed Cushman had shown “good faith and good sense and vision.”
Charisma for a Candidate
In early 1959, Romney had nailed down American Motors’ profits securely enough to permit, for the first time, the luxury of thoughts about civic affairs and politics. Ramblers had risen from nowhere to fifth place in the US auto market; and a company which lost $20 million in 1956 and did not go into the black until late 1957, netted $35 million after taxes in the six months preceding March 1. Time in a cover story on April 6, 1959, gave Romney credit due for “one of the most remarkable selling jobs in the history of US industry” and reported “suggestions that he run for Governor of Michigan or President of the US.” Ten days later Thomas Mahoney, a public relations man on the staff of the Madison Avenue firm representing American Motors in New York, Dudley, Anderson and Yutzy, flew out to Detroit for the first of a series of conferences with Romney on a book about his life. (Harpers’ subsequent publication of The Story of George Romney in February, 1960, came as an interesting surprise in Detroit.)
Romney staged a private dinner on April 28, 1959, at the Sheraton Cadillac in Detroit to discuss the formation of a non-partisan “Citizens for Michigan” movement which was to have a place in Michigan history as the catalyst responsible for the organization of the Constitutional Convention now meeting in Lansing and was to serve, or so it turned out, as the springboard for Romney’s gubernatorial candidacy. To at least one of those present - Robert S. McNamara, then president of the Ford Motor Company - it occurred that Romney might end up in politics. Riding down in the elevator afterward, McNamara asked one of his dinner companions what he thought Romney had in mind for himself. He had already acquired a “good government” image in Detroit as the chairman of a citizen study group which had sold the city or\ a badly needed $90 million school financing program. It seemed logical to both men that success in this new statewide venture to resolve the impasse on fiscal policy in the legislature would - and properly should - qualify Romney for leadership in Lansing.
McNamara was one of a group of influential, free-floating Republicans in Detroit who could not stomach GOP orthodoxy in Michigan and made intermittent efforts to find and bankroll attractive candidates. Another Ford executive, Charles Moore, vice president for civic and government relations, had written speeches as a White House special assistant during the first year of the Eisenhower Administration and was a family friend and neighbor of Romney’s in Bloomfield Hills. Martin Hayden, editor of the Detroit News and for many years a Washington correspondent, argued that incumbent Democratic Senator Pat McNamara was a pushover, that Mennen Williams would not run for a seventh term as Governor in 1960, and that the state was at last ready for a change after 12 years of Democratic rule.
Labor had not been represented among the six at the April dinner or the broadened group of 15 convened a month later. When a preliminary organization session of “Citizens for Michigan” was called on June 19, however, several labor personalities were invited, touching off a serious intramural debate over how to deal with Romney. “Gus” Scholle uneasily decided that
State Council vice president George Murphy might just as well go to look in on the proceedings, but by the time of Murphy’s death in a September auto accident, Scholle had set himself against further Council identification with what he regarded as an obvious Romney promotion. At Ed Cushman’s instance, the UAW then settled on union participation in the persons of Leonard Woodcock and Jack Conway as members of the board of directors. Judah Drob of the Communications Workers also agreed to join. Enthusiastic press accounts of “Citizens for Michigan” plans stressed the presence of labor and industry (McNamara and baby foods manufacturer Dan Gerber were on the board) and rapidly bestowed on Romney the charisma of one with a unique saving power, enabling him to unite diverse factions and rescue Michigan from bankruptcy.
On the occasion of his election as CFM chairman on September 21, Romney stated that he would not be a candidate for political office and exhorted those taking part in the new movement to act as citizens rather than members of interest groups. Some overt talk concerning his possible availability for Senator nevertheless began to crop up in the autumn and winter months. Behind the scenes Martin Hayden at the News, Charles Moore at Ford, and GOP National Committeeman John Martin were talking up the idea; and Romney’s friend William Stirton, vice president of the University of Michigan and a CFM founder, was running it down, arguing that he should not waste himself on a junior senatorship representing the state’s minority party. Meanwhile, Scholle continued to argue against labor involvement with the CFM and finally exploded when labor was asked to enlist local unionists to help in a statewide organizational expansion drive.
He addressed a personal letter of protest to Walter Reuther dated January 8, ig6o, citing chapter and verse from Romney’s speeches and public statements.
Several months ago we briefly discussed the possibility of cooperating in the Citizens for
Michigan group organized by George Romney. I have had very grave misgivings about Mr. Romney’s activities because during the years I have known Mr. Romney he has been a cog in the Republican Party machinery here.
As far as I have knowledge he has never changed his attitude one iota in spite of his vigorous protestations that he is currently non-partisan in his approach…
Needless to say, I have always looked upon him as being fundamentally anti-labor. I wonder whether all of our union officials are aware of what Mr. Romney has said about our unions in the past, and even in recent months… Throughout his speeches Mr. Romney has very skillfully made the inference that labor is the lone big bad wolf in political domination of party organizations ~ as he puts it, “as business did earlier.” I think our participation in the Romney Citizens for Michigan Committee might conceivably boomerang on us when on some future occasion Mr. Romney may declare the Republican Party the only party free from domination by an economic pressure group. 1 believe that this is a matter which should be thoroughly discussed by a small group in order that we can all, if possible, approach this problem with the same perspective.
Sincerely and fraternally yours,
But the matter was not formally resolved in a “small group.” To this day, the labor personalities who were directly involved are not entirely sure what to make of Romney. An exception is Judah Drob, who was disenchanted when the Senate talk went on and on without a disclaimer, despite intense labor pressure. Romney had appeared before a CFM board meeting on January 30, 1960, to share his thoughts on the Senate decision. He had come to have “grave doubt” whether CFM could succeed with a mere 1,950 members, and reported that a meeting with Michigan Republican leaders several days earlier had “disclosed the possibility of achieving a goal of one party in Michigan freed from excessive organized minority influence… Perhaps this, too, is too idealistic.” The fact that he finally decided not to run when the former president of the League of Women Voters got up at the meeting and openly questioned his motives could not restore the bloom to the rose. “[Romney] was clearly unstable,” says Drob, “and did not know his own mind. Possibly we should have left then. He had let us down and had given complete vindication to people like Gus who said it was a political buildup.”
(Among Republicans, Romney’s announcement for the Senate had been expected as a matter of course at the January 30 CFM meeting. His decision not to run followed the attack on his bonafides and a hastily convened conference in the hall with Ed Cushman and several friends. “If I had known he was going to change his mind,” a friend recalls McNamara as having said, “I would have gone out in the hall myself.”)
In the Reuther circle the tone of the conversation one hears about Romney in February, 1962, is that he is “compartmentalized. Remember Arthur Holly Compton. He’s a scientist and yet a staunch Fundamentalist. Romney is an honest guy in a disorganized kind of way. He’ll take a position honestly, and if it doesn’t fit with something else he’s done, that doesn’t faze him.” Leonard Woodcock also gives him the benefit of the doubt. “The man has an open mind, I’ve seen him change it in the middle of a meeting. It just wouldn’t be correct to say that we were played for suckers. I’m sure that when CFM was started he didn’t have running for Governor in mind. In fact, Ed Cushman seemed to be pushing him into it. Possibly he thought of the Senate someday but that would have been different. I think the situation changed when the Nixon people took him to the top of the mountain and showed him ‘64.”
The Senate would indeed have been different because even if Romney did get to Washington, this would have been no assault on the general structure of labor-Democratic power in Lansing. Moreover, the implications of a labor boycott on CFM may have seemed even more unfortunate in mid-1959 than lending it support. The press would have blamed labor and the Democrats for defeating the last best chance to unravel Michigan finances. Since Romney was likely to go ahead with CFM anyway, Reuther decided that the UAW should do its best to push the policy of the new group in desirable directions.
The view that Romney was actually subject to labor influence and that he took pride in his non-partisan standing gained force from certain concessions in his CFM stand on state tax policy and his decision not to run for the Senate in 1960. Intensifying Republican interest in him did not shake labor’s hope that he could be neutralized as a direct political threat through encouraging him in a non-partisan community leadership role. Woodcock and Reuther were still trying to talk him out of running for Governor as late in the proceedings as the last week of January.
Romney recalls today that he and Richard Nixon had “five or six” meetings, some unpublicized, in Detroit, Washington and New York after their first meeting at the National Auto Show in 1956. The two men have a mutual friend and go-between in J. Willard Marriott, the Washington “Hot Shoppes” millionaire and a Mormon, who arranged for a talk with the Vice President on the eve of the Senate decision in January, 1960. Nixon was looking ahead to the November Presidential election and is said to believe that Romney’s presence on the ticket might have made the difference in Michigan and thus in the overall electoral tally. Dwight Eisenhower apparently knew something of Romney at this stage through another mutual friend (and Mormon), Ezra Taft Benson, but it was not until six hours at Gettysburg on December 14, following an appearance at the Constitutional Convention, that Eisenhower began talking about Romney for ‘64.
The 38-year-oId Michigan Republican who shares Romney’s Lansing hotel suite while the Constitutional Convention is on, Richard Van Dusen, a former state legislator and candidate for attorney general, expresses bemusement at the present plight of the labor people and Democrats.
“They’ve built a graven image, and now they have to destroy it. But it’s too late.”
“We Have to Have Them”
In the campaign now underway, the UAW image-destroyers have to assign an anti-labor bias to the man who has just signed a profit-sharing agreement scheduled to give each American Motors production worker a $379 benefit at the end of the current company bookkeeping year on October 1. Romney poses a novel problem for labor propagandists because he deviates in almost all major respects from the stereotype of the boss. “The notion that profit is our main goal,” he says, “is in complete conflict with our political and religious concepts as a nation.” As vice president at Nash-Kelvinator before the merger with Hudson and the formation of American Motors, Romney flabbergasted fellow executives by arguing, in the name of the workers, against the shutdown of the unprofitable Detroit Kelvinator plant: With bad management partly to blame for the poor showing of the plant, the company could not escape a moral responsibility to save their jobs if at all possible.
Yet the unions can find cause for alarm in the persistence of Romney’s demands over a period of nearly 20 years for national action to break up industry-wide bargaining and to extend the antitrust laws to labor. (State right to work laws, he says, are ill-advised, for while they “might have some bearing where organization has not occurred, they have no particular bearing where excessive union power already exists.”) He sounds as if he means it. To a member of his board of directors who has privately expressed doubt concerning the political feasibility of his reforms, Romney responds that “we have to have them or we’re through as a country.”
In his speech to the Farm Bureau Convention on December 12, Romney prefaced his demand for an end to industry-wide bargaining with an assurance that “the rise of collective bargaining power and union power…was needed—to offset the abuses arising out of excessive power on the employer side. I know this was a necessary thing. However, I think it became overbalanced—increasingly so in recent years [italics added].” Actually, investigation suggests that Romney’s conception of “recent years” reaches back to the Wagner Act. While management had preponderant bargaining power in the early Thirties, he told the Associated Industries of Massachusetts on December 10, 1945, “The Wagner Act and other laws not only fostered and encouraged the organization of workers, but permitted their organization and growth of power to take place without any limitations… The present situation is as unbalanced as it was prior to the Wagner Act and is steadily growing more so.” Testifying for the Automobile Manufacturers before the Mead Committee inquiry on war manpower problems on March 9, 1945, he characterized industry-wide bargaining as “a major step toward the corporate state and the cartelization of American industry… We believe the new national labor policy should lodge the responsibilities for collective bargaining in a union exclusively representing the employees of a single employer.” (His suggestion that “executives and staffs of international unions could provide economic research, reporting, technical, public relations and advisory services to their autonomous union members” appears word for word in some of his contemporary proposals for labor reform.) In a November 20, 1946, speech he called the CIO industrial unions “a super-union counterpart of the old public utility holding companies.”
The Romney Platform
The genesis of Romney’s widely-publicized present views on the need for restrictions on bigness in all sectors of the economy can be found in his lecture to a class in trade association management at Northwestern University on October 3, 1946, while he was still managing director of the Automobile Manufacturers Association. Citing as his scripture Elton Mayo’s The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization, he analyzed “the growing inability of American functional groups to cooperate” and warned of the dangers inherent in “the obvious fact that modern industry . . . has developed our dependence on each other to the point where misuse of individual freedom by a handful of industrialists, or a handful of workers, can create distress and hardship for millions.” Labor was still the greater villain, but “most American trade associations” were also guilty of putting their selfish interests ahead of the common weal.
Though his speeches as a young executive on the way up at Nash-Kelvinator and American Motors after 1948 allude now and then to the social responsibilities of industry, Romney did not broaden his position to include a full-scale attack on bigness in business as well as in labor until his voluntary appearance before the Kefauver Committee on February 7, 1958. An original and comprehensive Romney platform now emerged. “Competitive, cooperative consumerism,” not capitalism, was the genius of the US economic system—a genius perverted by the “fundamental, fatal conflict between the labor laws, which are premised on the principle of monopoly, and the antitrust laws, which are premised on the principles of competition.”
Business power should be diffused through antitrust reforms providing for a “split-off” into new enterprises whenever a company commanded more than 35 percent of the market in one basic industry, as in the case of General Motors and Ford. Payment of the capital gains tax would be postponed at the time of transfers resulting from application of Romney’s proposed new statute (but would be payable later when the stock was sold) so as to write directly into the law the principle that the company being broken up was not being penalized for its success. At the same time, “national” labor organizations spanning a number of companies in the same industry could no longer bargain on an industry-wide basis, though “affiliated unions representing employees of a single large company regardless of size” would be permitted to do so. Romney stressed that the union and industry proposals were inseparable. “I am not here to advocate one versus the other.” If put into effect “jointly and simultaneously,” the breakup of excessive power in both industry and labor could have a desirable shock effect on the economy and materially improve the cost-price position of US manufacturers in world markets. Pent-up competitive impulses would be released within US business, while the taming of labor would automatically serve to hold down the wage-price spiral.
The unorganized consumer and the farmer are pictured as the fall guys in the Romney analysis: “Whereas protected industrial markets . . . helped to create the imbalance in the Twenties and earlier and still play a part in the disparity between agricultural prices and industrial prices, today you have added on top of that this tremendous power of the unions to secure wage increases…with the result that industrial prices of necessity are going up, because along with agriculture, which is being squeezed heavily, and of course those on fixed incomes are being squeezed heavily, industrial profits have been squeezed heavily. Sure, you can find one or two examples like General Motors…”
Romney underscored that his target is not bigness in industry as such, but simply the excessive concentration of power within particular Industries and its stultifying effect on competition.
Senator O’Mahoncy: I understand your point to be that such a limitation would not curb incentive—
Mr. Romney: That is right.
Senator O’Mahoncy: If it were understood that after a company had reached such a size, It ought to split up like a snake and make some more snakes?
Mr. Romney: Well, it ought to give - we ought to have a birth and have two where we had one, and birth is something to be celebrated rather than to be deplored.
Senator O’Mahoney: In other words, after reaching that size, there would be a new organization taking ovcr the business. Perhaps it might be owned by the same stockholders, but under a different management?
Mr. Romney: That is correct. And, of course, stock ownership shifts, as you know, very rapidly these days.
Under further questioning by Senator O’Mahoney, Romney said that companies should be free to have a “horizontal spread” across a number of industries so long as there were “an adequate number of competing companies; within each industry.”
Significantly, Ed Cushman does not share some of his employer’s more controversial views and is not going along with Romney into politics. Cushman takes particular exception to the feature of Romney’s plan for the breakup of industry-wide bargaining which places on local unions more responsibility for the conduct of labor relations than he feels they can carry. The Romney program for a national labor policy appears to be pure Romney. Cushman has worked out an avant garde labor policy for Romney at American Motors that happens to fit the needs of both the union and the company in the general context of the auto industry. The most recent contract is a case in point. American Motors was in effect given a choice between helping the UAW to set the industry pace on favorable terms or facing much stiffer demands later on. To the anguish of General Motors, which was driven to accept a High level of fringe benefits charged up to fixed costs (profit-sharing at American Motors is a variable dependent on earnings), Romney went along with the union; but this had as much to do with the competitive position of American Motors as with what Romney thinks about a national labor-management policy.
The fact that Romneyism as a solution for national economic ills would also conveniently get rid of American Motors’ giant competition was the subject of considerable razzing in 1958. Romney responded simply that he had long held his views but refrained from voicing them until his company was in the black. A close friend who is a director of American Motors doubts that he would ever do much about breaking up GM and Ford, “unless Chrysler got into trouble.”
Romney agrees that he was not worried about bigness in his nine years (1930-39) as a youngster with the Aluminum Corporation of America, though he adds that ALCOA was a “good monopoly. They did not make much on invested capital - about six percent in the years I was with them.” Friends who knew his mind during his first decade in Detroit at the Automobile
Manufacturers Association, among them William McGaughey, now an American Motors vice president, do not recall that he ever expressed private concern over the size of the industrial units he was then representing.
“If you ask me, ‘Does he rationalize his position and identify it with larger things?’, I would have to say yes,” reflects McGaughey. “But we all do. George has a flair for dramatizing himself and his activities as being in the main channels and not in the subsidiary streams. He has to feel that what he’s doing is important, he’s not piddling around with minor league things. It wouldn’t be fair, though, to say that the bigness thing had no roots. He came here from Salt Lake with a sort of ingrained Western feeling about the utilities, the railroads. Wall Street, and there were some things he saw that he didn’t like.”
The man who got Romney his AMA job, Pyke Johnson, now chairman of the national Highway Research Board, states that “those ideas probably did not develop until as head of the American Motors family he began to think in terms of American Motors. You know, among the Mormons, the man is the head of the family. It’s a serious thing, he’s responsible and he’s for the family all the way.”
Affluence and Indiscipline
So much of Romney on domestic issues has been spread across the record in literally hundreds of speeches that my interest during our two hours of conversation was directed almost entirely to his thinking about the world. The horizons of his thesis on bigness are international.
“We will have to trim the fat in our economy if we are going to compete with the Communists and realize our mission,” he begins. “We cannot go on as we are. Our domestic and international problems are interrelated and interlocking. If we don’t get competition back into this economy of ours in the right way and provide for economic birth, then we are never going to solve the agricultural problem and we are certainly going to let down the underdeveloped areas of the world.”
But whose fat is to be trimmed?
“The character of collective bargaining in this country must change or we are going to lose our present international economic standing. We are costing and pricing ourselves out of world industrial markets. And there are more and more imports. We’re getting into a situation in which we are putting American industry on economic stilts like those we have put under American agriculture with subsidies.”
When asked what sacrifice he has in mind for business, Romney points out simply that limitations on corporate size “will greatly increase competition and make our companies leaner and harder. They’ll do better in world markets then, but we’ll have to give more study to all of the factors affecting modernization and productivity.”
Romney gives the impression at first in some of his speeches that he is addressing himself in a daring manner to the central national issue of how this affluent society can be competitive with others less affluent and more disciplined. His emphasis on this issue inspires the hope that he might be the man to enlist all sectors of American society in equitably shared sacrifice; and even the one-sided demands that he makes on labor do not entirely dispel the thought that he might have something fresh to say. But when pressed to spell out his thoughts on how the US should adapt its economy to changes abroad, Romney turns stale, for he has nothing much to add to his 1958 testimony. “I haven’t started to think this through.” To the suggestion that his reforms would still leave us pretty fat and that more of our private affluence might be channeled into the public sector, Romney responds with warnings of the perils in too much centralized federal power, though he believes that more of our resources should go into state and municipally-financed public improvements and expresses concern that “we are an island of prosperity in the midst of world poverty and starvation, outside of Western Europe and a few other places. I was run out of Mexico with my parents at the age of five because of the envy of the Mexican people.
My people were as poor as they were but through knowledge and industry made the deserts blossom ‘as the rose’. But they didn’t communicate and help others adequately and just got run out. One of the most serious problems we face is coping with the envy of the world.”
Can the US maintain an ever-advancing standard of living while the underdeveloped countries fall more and more behind?
“We’ve got to accelerate this thing terrifically. If we develop the right concepts we can help them to catch up. With our own head start we’re in a position to help them make progress faster than we do ourselves. You can’t blame them, they want it just like those Mexicans. But first we have to get off the side roads and the dead end streets.”
Romney-Style foreign Aid
Brought down to countries and continents, Romney sketches a distinctly Romney-style foreign aid program. The centerpiece would be an “International Bridge” idea which arises out of his experience with American Motors operations abroad. Romney has gone to look into some of his interests in Latin America and Europe, though he has never been to Asia, Africa or the Middle East, and he is sensitive to the charge of “economic imperialism.” He stresses that American Motors enters into “partnership” arrangements with locally-owned licensee plants. The “Bridge” idea would establish patterns of cooperation between private entrepreneurs on a grand scale. “Take two companies, two private companies in two countries. They’d set up an international manufacturing bridge between themselves, with the exchange of production limited exactly to equal national-content production values flowing in each direction.” Canada, let us say, could make tariff-free aluminum components for the American automobile industry, while the US would send back cars in equal proportions, also free of tariff.
Romney has the viewpoint of an internationally-minded businessman on trade with the Common Market, though he observes that “our businesses are already over there, so lowering tariffs doesn’t get at it.” He has no use, however, for the general drift of the foreign economic policies pursued by Republican and Democratic Administrations. Government to government loans, he believes, promote statism. “We’re not even headed in the right direction! We’re encouraging people along the wrong lines all over the world, and we’re not convinced ourselves anymore of the universal application of our principles. We’re retreating and shrinking before political tyranny and central economic control.”
What do we do when a country not under Communist domination goes the way of “political tyranny and central control”?
“Persuade them they’re off the track, by precept and example! Now, I am not advocating that we coerce anyone, but we have to know where we are going. We have to ask ourselves: What is it that we are trying to do? What are they trying to do? Are they completely wedded to a statist society? Then we have to decide whether the direction they’re going in is the direction we’re going in.”
Suppose it is not, as in the case of most of the countries of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the bigger Latin American powers? “Well, that’s contrary to our principles. We’ve got to—we might just as well face the fact that we have to push them in the right direction. We need a vision of what can be, and we have to fire them up with that. If we were really working a program that showed them what could be done, here at home and in at least a few places over there, they’d follow us. There’s no use encouraging them where they’re wrong, where there’s too much state control. If we’re going to help, we have to make sure it’s going to help. Otherwise, it’s like giving a kid whatever he wants.”
Does he attach importance to disparities in stages of social and economic development in Ghana or India or Brazil that might account for their un-American evolution?
“I believe that our American principles, politically and economically, are in accord with the laws of the universe. We have to believe in that! I recognize, of course, that there might be some situations where we’ll have to do things we don’t like for military or humanitarian reasons. The question to ask in any case is, ‘Do they acknowledge a Creator’?”
Romney leaves one uncertain whether he would continue much of the present foreign aid program. He complains that “we are wasting resources, we’ve just taken a shotgun approach to the world.” He sees little to choose between “mixed” economies and full-scale state control. He is for aid to those countries “responsive” to our suggestions on the best course for their economic development. At the same time, he reacts strongly to the suggestion that he is not for foreign aid or international cooperation. He talks feelingly of the need for “American pioneers with a world vision and a world identity.” He observes uneasily that “we can’t wait” for everyone to conform to our image. “I recognize that there’s no cheap way.” When asked several times, he seemed to say that the economic aid level ($1.2 billion) in the 1961-62 mutual security budget cannot be lowered.
The American Mission
The theme of America’s mission in the world has been preached by Romney for years and one senses that he could no more mute it than he could his convictions on labor. It is his belief that the US Constitution is divinely ordained, and he cites, in support, the revelation of Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail (Section 101 of the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) in which “God made plain His part in the establishment of our basic political and Hocial instruments… Ours was the first nation created on the…premise of the Divine Origin of Man.”
Addressing the University of Utah on February 26, 1949, Romney indicated a special pride in his native West as the true custodian of American freedom. “The South retains remnants and tendencies of a feudal aristocratic civilization, and the East tends to a class-conscious ruling plutocracy and, in the industrial areas, class-conscious industrial workers. What, then, of the
West? ... In the West, for the first time, a people already free worked for their own political, social and economic salvation. These pioneers were uninhibited by inequalities, save those inherent in the nature of man.” His concluding appeal was “to get on with the Christian and American Revolution” to demonstrate, “scoffers and doubters to the contrary…that America was discovered, the Constitution written, and the West settled…as a part of the Divine Plan to remove peoples everywhere from all forms of bondage.” (The same words are in a 1959 Utah speech, though “the West settled” is replaced with “the gospel restored.”)
He is aware that legions of scholars, notably Louis Hartz in The Liberal Tradition in America, have wondered whether Americans “born free” can “ever understand peoples that have to become so.” But Romney is not daunted by the fact that in this world, those who are “uninhibited by inequalities” are a small minority. He has his own favorite scholar. Max Ways of Time, whose 1959 book Beyond Survival argues that the American Way is transferrable abroad, and calls for a revamped foreign policy governed by a newly-defined National Purpose rather than by the National Interest. Among other things, Mr. Ways concerns himself with the “importance of how religion and politics make their inevitable contact.” Romney often uses quotations from Ways in his speeches and sends copies of Beyond Survival to friends. Lebanon’s Charles Malik is also quoted, often with mention of the fact that he is a “Christian Arab.” Billy Graham was quoted after Romney attended a Washington dinner in his honor on March 13, i960. Graham’s report on returning from a world tour that “we are surrendering on the installment plan” impressed Romney.
“Is it coexistence and accommodation or is it victory and worldwide application of our principles that we believe in?” he asked the Kiwanis International Convention on June 30, 1960. “Is it to support the enemies of our enemies because they are against what we are against, or is it to support the principles of human freedom because we believe in them?” The Detroit News was moved to join issue in an editorial arguing that “coexistence is what we have now and what we intend to keep on having because the alternative to it is war… It is an accommodation in the sense of adapting our foreign policy to [American and Russian nuclear stockpiles] though not an accommodation in the sense of reconciling ourselves to the Communist purpose of world domination. . . . We don’t live to conduct a foreign policy. We conduct a foreign policy to live in a certain way.”
Romney man-to-man is generally less flamboyant than Romney on the platform, and this is particularly so when one turns to global strategy, which is “something you and I can’t know a great deal about. The President has the facts before him.” He remains circumspect, but complains that “Khrushchev has the initiative, and so long as you’re on the defensive you’re in the wrong position. . . . I can’t understand why with a thorough knowledge of what he’s going to do we can’t beat him to the punch.” On China and Asia policy, he remarks that “we are on the defensive there, and the defensive path ultimately will lead us to defeat in that area. We have to look at this in the light of our mission and see in what ways our policy needs to be reshaped.”
With his rhetorical assaults on “co-existence and accommodation,” Romney sounds a faint echo of the Radical Right. But he has denounced the Birch Society as “reprehensible.” And on November 11, 1961, he told the rightist All-American Society of Provo, Utah, organized by Ezra Benson’s son. Reed, that “infiltration of Communism is not the greatest problem facing our country. It is the failure to deal with the problems within our country and to exercise our responsibility to the yearning millions of the world who are not as fortunate as we are.”
Mormons, Catholics, Negroes
The Romney image went through a subtle metamorphosis when he announced that he would fast for 24 hours and seek Divine Guidance in deciding whether to run for Governor. The discovery that this was standard Romney operating procedure came as a confusing surprise to those who expected something straight out of Executive Suite.
“The big clown,” said “Gus” Scholle on the morning of his announcement. “He thinks he has a private pipeline to God.” Romney’s retort that “the same pipeline is available to Mr. Scholle, if he cares to take advantage of it” led Scholle to counterattack with a press release citing Matthew (6:5) on the virtue of unpublicized prayer (“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as hypocrites are, for they love to pray standing in the streets, that they may be seen of men”).
“Biblical slap at Romney stir Furor” reported the Detroit Free Press. “Democrats shuddered visibly… Republicans, hoping to keep religion out of the campaign altogether, were equally unhappy.” The editor of the official organ of the Grand Rapids Catholic Diocese was quoted as saying that “no man, no matter how big he is - which includes Scholle—has any right to hold to scorn a man’s religious practices.”
Politically speaking, the implications of a prolonged dialogue revolving around religion are difficult to calculate. Roughly 60 percent of Michigan citizens were listed as without formal denominational affiliation in a recent survey by the Michigan Council of Churches. Nationally, the figure is 40 percent. But the director of the Michigan Council, Harold C. McKinney, a close Romney adviser, pooh-poohed the idea that the country is getting too sophisticated for religion. “Don’t underestimate the strength of religious identification,” warns McKinney. Most of Michigan’s errant 60 percent, he says, feel a “psychological” affinity with some religion; for practical political purposes, Michigan is closer to 50 percent Protestant, 30 percent Catholic, and 20 percent unaffiliated. “There’s a whole new current of mixed religious and political consciousness out here, a popular unease, you know, arising out of the inability to see solutions to the tremendous range of problems confronting us, international and domestic. This will definitely be an election factor here, and you’ll see it in the reaction to George around the country. Why do you think Billy Graham has such a following? I see a real possibility that George will be able to mobilize some of this uneasiness and spiritual searching into constructive channels.”
Romney’s reputation as a non-smoker and nondrinker—he serves cocktails to visitors, though he is not, strictly speaking, supposed to do so - enhances his appeal among the religious-minded of all faiths. He deplores the fact that “we have turned the Sabbath into anything but what it was designated for.” At a Commencement of Cranbrook Boys School, he said that “personal purity and chastity are absolutely priceless possessions and just as vital for boys as for girls.”
“Every politician tries to make himself look like a Christ-er,” comments a pro-Romney Detroit editor. “But this fellow really is one.”
Romney’s speeches carry a nondenominational spiritual emphasis and rarely remind the listener of his Mormonism. He was awarded an Americanism citation by the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League in 1959 and has patched up relations with the Michigan Roman Catholic hierarchy. The Mormon prophet Nephi called the Roman Church “the mother of abominations,” and Romney, one hears, does not always seem “comfortable” with his Catholic friends. When his strong Mormon sentiments on the separation of church and state appeared in Catholic eyes to intrude on his role at the state Constitutional Convention last month, signs of disquiet could be discerned, but the traditionally Democratic Michigan Catholic hierarchy has reportedly decided to divide its bets this fall.
Nationally, Romney’s Mormonism would probably bother parts of the Bible Belt more than it would Catholics in the cities. Some still remember the clashes which accompanied the migration of the clannish Saints Westward. But it is a long time since Boies Penrose broke up the 1907 debate over seating Reed Smoot in the Senate with his celebrated outburst: “Give me a Mormon who does not polyg rather than a non-Mormon who practices monogamy but does not monog!”
(Romney’s father is a polygamous child, but Romney is not. He has 165 first cousins.)
Curiously, Governor John Swainson also was born a Mormon. But Swainson’s family belonged to the “Reorganized” Church—the 175,000 Josephites, after Joseph Smith—with headquarters in Independence, Missouri, as distinct from the 1.5 million Brighamites headquartered in Salt Lake City. (The Josephites have not been associated with the practice of polygamy.) And Swainson has been a Lutheran since his marriage, while Romney is president of the Detroit Stake of the Church. The coincidence, however, may help take some of the steam out of the Mormon issue in the Dutch Reformed country along Lake Michigan.
But among Michigan’s 700,000 Negroes the Mormon label may do Romney some damage. The book of Moses (5:16-41) tells devout Mormons that the Lord turned Cain black as a curse for the murder of Abel; that the Negro lineage was preserved through the Hood when Noah’s son Ham married Egyptus, a descendant of Cain; and that the members of the accursed Negro race cannot be admitted today to the Mormon priesthood. During hearings on the nomination of Sterling McMurrin as US Commissioner of Education, Sen. Joseph Clark asked McMurrin whether his Mormon faith implied a bias on school integration. McMurrin said it did not and added that “I do not accept the position of the Mormon Church with respect to Negroes. I have made this very clear to the people of the Church.” Romney, however, reacts differently, insisting that “my Church teaches me the Negro is my brother and that the Negro can attain the celestial kingdom just as I can.” He sidesteps the Book of Moses, calling attention instead lo the Book of Nephi (27:33), which states that the Lord “denied none that come unto him, black and white, bond or free, male or female…” Romney links the Nephi citation to the fact that Joseph Smith was an ardent abolitionist.
Indirectly, he acknowledges the Church position when he says that “the question is whether it has any influence on my attitude as a citizen toward Negroes and their rights. It does not.” He lists support for an inter-racial housing cooperative and calls attention to Article 1, Section 3 of the 1961 contract committing American Motors and the UAW to “the policy that applicants will be hired and employees will be treated” without discrimination as to race, creed or national origin—the first provision of its kind in the industry.
Asked whether he would work to remove the ban on entry into the priesthood if he were one of the twelve Mormon apostles, Romney said that “if I were to be in the position you mention, I would not consider that something I would have to do with.” Suddenly, he grows intense, observing that “if people don’t think ours is the true Church, it makes one wonder when they’re concerned about the priesthood, doesn’t it?”
Republican leaders think that the “sleeper” in Romney’s encounter with the Negro community may lie in his capacity to communicate as an evangelical orator and in the sense of kinship between Negro Baptists and the Fundamentalist Mormons. Cornelius McNeil, the butler in J. Willard Marriott’s home in Washington who sees a lot of Romney, thinks he’s wonderful—“always the same man, so nice all the time”—and points out that “they believe the same way and baptize the same way we do. The only difference is they have more money.” When Romney starts pouring it on in Negro churches, it Is said, there will be a lot of Hallelujah.
But though he hopes to cut down Democratic majorities in Wayne County Negro and labor strongholds, Romney gives his main campaign attention to constructing GOP and independents-for-Romney machinery in normally Republican outstate areas and relatively unpredictable suburban wards centered especially in three populous counties (Macomb, Genesee and Oakland). Michigan voters divide broadly into two deadlocked warring camps—closely organized. Democratic Wayne and the outstate GOP areasequally matched with 40 percent of the state’s power. In recent elections Democratic victories have depended on at least breaking even in the “swing” counties.
Room at the Top
Romney offers Republican politicians the wide-ranging appeal of a man who has made it to the top in the knifeplay of modern American business competition, and yet personifies the old-fashioned virtues. To the junior executive in Chicago, his rise gives reassurance that for all of our bigness, there is still room at the top; and for the young man’s mother he is proof that nice boys don’t necessarily get there last.
He also brings to the Party an explicit ideology for a winning Republican coalition: Consumerism. In the crossfire between the Old Guard view that the Party’s conservative identity should not be forsaken in a long shot bid for the big cities and the Modern Republican argument that Presidential elections are won in the urban wards, Romney says, in effect, that the Party can win in the cities and still be true to its principles. His anti-bigness line is addressed directly to the unorganized urban consumer and white collar worker who worries about high prices and feels caught in the squeeze of faceless giants. In place of the conventional Republican effort to pin the blame one-sidedly on organized labor for all of the ills of the farmer and the consumer, however, Romney provides a new sales approach which has the surface appearance of dispensing evenhanded justice to labor and management.
Romney has a lot to offer his party, but in the end he might be rejected nonetheless. If so, the reason will not be that he is too “Modern” a Republican. It will be, in part, because political managers find a maverick unpredictability worrisome. But the preacher in him raises the really serious doubts. Frank Rising, who was director of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association while Romney was at the Automobile Manufacturers, praises Romney’s drive and courage but concludes that “as a politician, he might be a resounding failure. He has no talent for the evasive answer. He is not used to criticism. He can’t be the compendium of other people’s advice and aspirations. He can’t be.”
This article appeared in the March 5, 1962 issue of the magazine.