QUESTIONER: Did you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country, is envious? Is it about jealousy, or fairness?
ROMNEY: You know, I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent, and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent, you have opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.
During The Summer of Love in 1967 I was in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco where the anarchist Diggers did a free feed for their fellow hippies every afternoon. Given that I was more-or-less homeless and flat-out broke, free food worked for me. It worked for everyone. We were in love remember. Share and share alike. We were also not so much in love with the “establishment” and materialism, but given that flower children weren’t big on hatred, we tolerated the occasional straight tourist and lovingly accepted their donations so that we might continue our Occupation of Haight-Ashbury (is this starting to sound like the Occupation of Liberty Park?). On this particular day one of those tourists came with an entourage, though no one seemed to take much notice. I had a passing interest in national politics at that point in my life, so I did notice who the tourist in the tie and sport coat was, the soon to be announced Republican presidential candidate and former Michigan Governor George Romney.
Given that Life Magazine, the Networks and a long list of assorted mainstream media had recently discovered Haight-Ashbury, hippies and The Summer of Love, it was apparent that Romney was there out of curiosity, what we now call a fact finding mission. Running for president of the United States of America surely must require getting a sense of where America’s young people are at, right? Romney was only weeks away from coming out against the war in Vietnam after another fact finding mission he was to publicly compare to “brainwashing” by U.S. military and diplomatic officials in Vietnam. I’m sure he was aware of the pervasive anti-war sentiment in the Haight. No one could walk half a block without seeing peace signs. Maybe he was courting the young peace vote? Doubtful. Many of us wouldn’t have been able to vote until we were 21 back then, many who could didn’t.
George Romney, while a classic waffler like his son, was a descent moderate Republican, something like a vanishing breed today. Romney would later champion affirmative action and housing desegregation as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. I’ve always been of the opinion that George Romney was actually interested in finding out what that new social moment growing across the nation was all about. Bear in mind, we’re talking America of the mid-60s. Extremists had assassinated the President, his brother who was running for president, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Public reaction, in most parts of the nation, tended toward shock and dismay. The resulting tenor in Washington and on the campaign trail was, by today’s standards, civil and restrained. George Romney seemed, at least to me at the time, to reflect some of that restraint and civility.
Flash forward to 2012. Guess who appears to not care one bit what the growing Occupy Movement is about, who has not even taken the time to visit an Occupation during his presidential run? Guess who hypocritically accuses Occupy and its supporters of class warfare, when his own class has been waging an escalating class war against workers and the poor for decades. Guess who increasingly reflects the extremist punitive, anti-social positions of the far-right to further his political ambitions? That, of course, would be the son of George Romney, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. This Romney’s “wave of approach” to politics being all the more “entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God”, further divides us between the obscenely wealthy and all the rest. All the positions he takes reflect that division. But if you actually want to discuss issues of inequality for instance, Romney says we should only speak of income inequality in “quiet rooms”. Why all the secrecy? Is there something Mitt Romney doesn’t want discussed on the campaign trial, out in the open, something that was once avoided in polite conversation? Something maybe that gave the lie to the so-called “American Dream” and the “Land of Opportunity”?
Mitt Romney brings “God” into the political conversation (something we could probably do without), but it was the “Son of God” who allegedly said: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” Does this sound familiar? Don’t the positions espoused by Romney and most of his running mates seem to fit the agenda of the “cursed”? Conversely, it was George Romney who said, “We must practice our fundamental principles of mutual self-respect and brotherhood with every citizen enjoying full and equal citizenship”. What would Mitt’s father say if he could hear his son today?
Back there in Haight-Ashbury I doubt there was much “envy” of the filthy rich. Quite the opposite. Beyond all the drug use and naivete that would eventually prove damaging, our music, the other arts we used to express our thoughts and feelings on a world growing more and more materialistic, spoke about the dream of a better world, one based on mutual aid and respect, on equality. We are seeing that sentiment rise once again in the Occupation Movement. We are not seeing it on the campaign trial or in congress, much less on Wall Street or in the corporate boardrooms. Perhaps a yearning for mutual aid and equality skipped a generation. That might explain what happened to Mitt Romney.
Commentary by OTA co-host D.O.