The Real Romney

Michael Kranish and Scott Helman  (Harper: 2012)

Since our national election is less than four months away I recently concluded that I knew very little about Governor Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee. (I have not read his memoir and believe that such political memoirs are not likely to reveal anything deeply important to my knowing the person better anyway.) As I thought about a Romney candidacy I realized that I had some profound questions about the man, his faith and his style of leadership that I wanted to see answered. Some of these questions troubled me. I find a lot to like about Mitt Romney, in a broadly uninformed way. I certainly do not see him as a bad man in any sense of the word bad. I just did not feel like I know enough about him to have an educated opinion regarding his person, character or leadership abilities. For this reason I plunged into my reading of The Real Romney with significant interest.

It should be noted that the authors of The Real Romney, Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, are journalists, not historians. Kranish is the deputy chief of the Washington Bureau of The Boston Globe. Helman is a staff writer at The Boston Globe. I finished their book three weeks ago. I found it to be an even-handed and revealing portrait of a man so few of us know much about. The nagging questions that I have had about Mitt Romney were generally answered quite well by the authors. Thus what follows is an attempt to write an even-handed review of the book and provide some answers to the questions that I had about the candidate.

Kranish and Helman describe Romney as “an enigma to many in America.” I certainly felt this way until I finished reading The Real Romney. Romney’s record clearly shows that he has changed (“flipped-flopping” they call it in the campaign) his views on several important social issues since he first ran for public office in 1994. But how and why he changed is not very well known. This is one reason that his record can be attacked selectively and with seeming effect. Furthermore, the role his Mormon faith plays in his private life is not well understood. People still ask me, “Is he really a devout Mormon?” The answer to that is an unambiguous yes. What about his wife (Ann Lois Romney), a lady who seems to be a courageous women who has battled with multiple sclerosis since she was diagnosed in 1998? (She has credited a mixture of mainstream and alternative treatments with giving her a lifestyle with few limitations.)  Just four years ago Ann was also diagnosed with a form of breast cancer and had a lumpectomy in December of 2008. She is now cancer-free. Mitt and Ann Romney have five adult sons, born between 1970 and 1981. These five young men are pretty impressive guys from what I discovered in reading about the Romney family. The Romney family, as devout Mormons, do not drink, smoke or curse. There is not a hint of immorality or impropriety that sticks to the story of Mitt Romney or anyone in his family. Their outward lifestyle is that of truly dedicated Mormons.

Romney presents himself as a candidate who can help businesses flourish again and thus he can truly aid in the recovery of a struggling economy. But is he really a business visionary who turns companies (and events like the Winter Olympic Games) around or is he just a calculating, wealthy, out-of-touch dealmaker who has a mixed record of success and failure? The answer is not that simple but in the big picture sense his experience supports a positive appraisal of both his ethics and his carefully honed business skills.

Perhaps equally important is the question shared by many Christians who want to know if his Mormon faith will impact how he governs if he is elected president? (I assure you, once again, that he is unashamedly a devout Mormon!) But will he bring Mormonism into the White House or keep it separate from leading the country? I do not think there should be one ounce of concern that he would adopt a Mormon-promoting version of leadership. Like many other Mormon leaders in the House, Senate and the various parts of our federal government there is no obvious reason to be troubled about this question.

For more than five years these two authors have covered Mitt Romney. They have written articles about him and frequently interviewed him. In The Real Romney they probe his business record at Bain Capital, one of the world’s leading private investment firms, quite deeply. They reveal that he clearly made staggering profit business. They raise good questions about his integrity and personal business experience. They uncover his record in regards to company buyouts, buyouts that helped to create jobs while in some cases they destroyed jobs. They further show, rather fairly I think, how Mitt Romney works with people and how people respond to him as a leader. Romney is clearly an introvert, which I think explains much of what we see in public. He clearly has some enemies from his years in business but very, very few people will say a great deal against him, at least from what I can see in this story. The truth is, most people seem to highly respect him if they have known him personally and worked with him in private. He seems to exude a quiet confidence that attacks capable people.

Tomorrow: The Real Romney, Part 3