Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Kranish and Helman reveal new dirt on Romney in Vanity Fair excerpt

Two Boston Globe reporters, Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, have released a bio of Romney called “The Real Romney,”   This is not a tell-all, but continues the softball approach of Kranish’s previous work on figures like John Kerry and Wesley Clark. 

The Daily Beast has some Highlights:

And the New York Times a review:

Vanity Fair has an actual excerpt that deserves some attention, as much for what the authors did not understand as for what they did.

They start with a tribute to his family life: his courtship of Ann, his loyalty to her, and his  “pedestal” treatment of her, all presented positively without comment, but the picture is not one of average Americans. He proposed to her at his high school prom, when he was newly 18 and she was newly 16 (16 was the age of consent in Michigan, except for “authority figures.”  If Romney had a teaching position in the local LDS ward, it is not covered).  They note that Romney “ran out of gas” on the way home, suggesting he started a physical relationship with her in an overly coy way. That his relationship with her was sexual was also suggested by his sneaking back to see her without his parents’ knowledge when he was at Stanford. The real suggestion is that Ann has almost no experience with men, and Romney only limited experience with women.

They don’t delve into the comments of the children that Romney wouldn’t allow them to criticize their mother, and that he always  makes a show of submitting to her desire to stop the car while the children were not allowed to have to go to the bathroom or make unscheduled stops.  In short, that there was a formal, theatrical role-play within the family as seen by the kids, and Romney “submission” to his wife may bely the amount of control he really exercises.  The Mormon church is  famous for organizing family time and its rigid family roles, and it appears that the Romneys are  fully engaged in very formal and ritualized interactions.  Thus, their testimony about each other has to be seen in that regard, as less a presentation of opinion  than a presentation of roles.

They also don’t go into Romney's failure to finish at Stanford after his French mission and car accident, which was followed by his transfer to Brigham Young.  To hear them tell it, his church activities began in the Boston stake when he was near 30.  Given the prominence of his family in the church, that is highly unlikely.  They mention that LDS has an amateur church hierarchy that makes heavy demands on the members.  What Kranish and Helman don’t speculate on is how the amateur nature of the clergy changes the nature of spiritual authority.  Since there are no theological givens with an untrained, amateur clergy, personal relationship is the name of the game, and one reason so many Mormon stakes are run by the wealthy and relations  is that money and position are powerful assets to bring a personal relationship with authority.  It also means, however, that there is some theological flexibility, but they give plentiful examples that Mitt Romney was not flexible on theological matters, which referred to Salt Lake City rather than his immediate Boston environs.

When the women of the Boston stake created a feminist organization to call for change, Ann Romney did not join.  Mitt listened to and tried to satisfy some of their complaints, but ultimately he viewed them negatively.  One feminist married a non-Mormon and so was barred from the Temple, one of those old Mormon customs that has CultWatch classify them still as a cult since the church is isolating people from non-Mormon relations.  When the Church  changed the rule to allow people in mixed marriages  to enter the temple with a proper bishop’s approval, Bishop Romney signed a temple recommend for one of the feminists who was married to a non-Mormon, but told her “You’re not my kind of Mormon.”   Remember, the Bishop controls access to the Temple and therefore salvation and social status for individual Mormons, so even though he gave into the request, there was an implied threat in his criticism.  I don’t think the authors understand the fear a leader can command among a people who are encouraged to interact mostly with each other.

When one woman in the ward, who was single, got pregnant, the Romneys gave her odd jobs so she could earn cash.  However, Romney told her the church expected her give up her child for adoption so her child could be raised by a two-parent family, and threatened her with excommunication if she did not.  She did not give up her child, and when he needed surgery, she asked for Romney’s blessing lest he die, but Romney  wouldn’t come to give it, sending underlings instead.  She left the church.  She said she was grateful for the Romneys’ generosity, but the reporters make too little of the threat.  It is unlikely that a priest or minister in another American religion would excommunicate a single mother for not giving up her child.  They might deny her a sacrament, but probably would not, and they would not cut her off from her community, as Romney threatened to do.  In addition, they would not prevail on the community to shun her or deny her employment, as would likely have happened if she had been excommunicated.  Indeed, her crediting the Romneys with generosity even today might reflect a fear that her son, an electrician in Salt Lake City, is still within their power to harm. 

Another woman who had been counseled by her doctors to have an abortion received a visit from Romney, who cared only for the fetus and did not believe the doctors, one of them the Mormon stake president, had recommended an abortion. Romney indicated he would call the stake president to argue against this course, suggesting that Romney may have believed he could intervene with the stake president to enforce Utahn orthodoxy due to his privileged family position in the church despite his supposed inferior official church position to the stake president at that time.

Some things the authors of the article revealed without seeming to realize it.  For example, Bill Bain, the leader of Bain Co., commented on how much Mitt was like his father, indicating Bain had some knowledge of George Romney and that was probably why Romney was hired.   He made Mitt head of Bain Capital, which Mitt initially turned down but agreed to after the risks were removed from his participation.  Romney was involved in around 100 deals during his 15 years with Bain Capital.  Of 68 reviewed in a private Deutche Bank review, 33 had lost money or broke even, and 35 made money.   His big success trumpeted today  was the $650,000 Bain gave to help Staples open its first store. Ultimately, Bain gave $2.5 million to Staples, reaping $13 million when they went public, at which time they had 1,100 employees.  Later, of course, Staples became really big, with 89,000 employees, but Bain never managed the company and its claim to having created the jobs is due to the seed money for that first store and early support.  In his 2004 book “Turnaround,” Romney said, “I never actually ran one of our investments. That was left to management.”  This is a curious phrase for someone who wants to be thought a job creator, and suggesting there is something he would not want to take credit for in the record.   

 Indeed, Romney advocated “creative destruction” in another book of his, “No Apology”  that the economy thrives when weak companies are driven out or pushed under and presenting the social pain of those failures as inevitable, forgetting that the corporate limited liability form was created specifically to prevent entrepreneurs from bearing the costs of their failures, and so it hardly fair to ask workers to shoulder the entire social cost.  As we have seen in my previous entry on corporate raider culture, the actual intent of buying and stripping companies is to reduce competition and raise prices, not to enhance competition. Indeed, Bain went so far as to partner with junk bond king and convicted inside trader Michael Millken.   In 2008, Romney opposed a bailout for auto companies, something that Obama will hammer him with if Romney is the nominee.

However, the article also hints at possible fraud under Romney.  Bain invested $27 million in buying Dade International from Baxter Travenol.  Under Bain’s control, the company piled up $1.6 billion in debt while paying $230 million to Bain to buy back shares and $100 million to Bain in fees.  The company  filed for bankruptcy, reorganized, and succeeded.  However there were layoffs during the Bain periods and it ended in 2002 when the creditors were stiffed close to a billion dollars.

I look forward to reviewing the whole book.

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