President Obama will receive great credit from historians and many voters in November for his triumph reviving the American auto industry, and making “Made in America” a badge of honor for this key sector of the national economy.
It is a useful moment to consider the career of a great man, former Michigan governor and auto-industry CEO George Romney. George Romney was an early and strong champion of fuel-efficient cars, partnerships for prosperity between labor and management, civil rights, major disclosure of candidate tax returns and a philosophy he called competitive cooperative consumerism. He joined with Victor Reuther of the United Auto Workers to better the lot of workers.
If George Romney were here today, Mitt Romney would probably be calling him a European socialist, while George Romney would probably be supporting the auto policies of Obama and possibly endorsing Obama for reelection.
My Dickensian title is not about a tale of the three Mitt Romneys of left, right and center who have emerged as pretenders when convenient over the years. Rather, this is a tale of two Romneys named George and Mitt, and how the difference between them speaks to a profound debate about the nature of the Republican Party today and the great decision the voters will make in November.
The Obama policy to revive the auto industry was so successful because he brought together management and workers behind a shared mission with shared purpose, shared pain, shared success and shared rewards. George Romney would have valued this, and supported it. Mitt Romney despised it, and attacked it.
Mitt Romney advocated a different approach based on Dickensian business practices that even some Republicans call vulture capitalism, which would have been alien to George Romney. What Mitt Romney wanted would have destroyed the American auto industry. What Barack Obama did saved it.
Tens of thousands of auto-related jobs are back. More are coming. The words profit, growth, new jobs and Made in America are again proudly part of the lexicon of the American auto industry because Barack Obama was president, and Mitt Romney was not.
George Romney would be appalled that the party he loved now champions a death struggle between labor and management in which those who speak for workers are treated as enemies of the state who should be demonized and destroyed. He would strongly agree with Obama that business and labor should be partners for prosperity, and not mortal enemies in a tribal war that Republicans want, which all Americans would lose.
Obama and George Romney embody a capitalism in which both sacrifice and rewards are fairly shared. Most Republicans and Mitt Romney embody a capitalism in which the top fraction of the top 1 percent receives almost all of the gain and endures virtually none of the pain, while the rest of the nation shares only a pittance of the prosperity and endures all of the pain.
The George Romney who ran an American auto company and served as governor of Michigan would be appalled and ashamed by what has become of his party and embarrassed that Mitt Romney so panders to an extremism that is anathema to everything he stood for and accomplished.
George Romney would be angry and ashamed that his party wages all-out war against collective bargaining and tries to demonize and destroy jobs and benefits for highly trusted and valued teachers, librarians, firefighters and police in state after state, and from the GOP side of the aisle in Congress.
George Romney was elected governor of Michigan three times. The GOP governors he would most deplore today are often highly unpopular and facing recall or defeat in the next election.
In this tale of two Romneys, the great man of the past would be championing the capitalism of the president, and rejecting the Darwinian and Dickensian vulture capitalism that embodies neither true capitalism nor the real America.