Geoffrey Kabaservice: Review of Michael Kranish's and Scott Helman's "The Real Romney"

Roundup: Books

Geoffrey Kabaservice’s latest book is “Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party.”

It’s unlikely that Mitt Romney saw the film “The Graduate” when it appeared in 1967. He was a 20-year-old Mormon missionary in France at the time, isolated from the cultural influences that shaped most Americans of the baby-boom generation, and his taste in movies ran to more wholesome fare like “The Sound of Music.” If he had seen it, though, one doubts that he would have scoffed along with his contemporaries during the scene in which a smarmy businessman declares that the key to the future is “plastics.” He might have considered it useful career advice.

Critics have noted Romney’s plastic qualities ever since he entered politics: the elasticity of his views, the android awkwardness of his interactions with voters, his slick evasions and platitudes, his sculptured features and molded hair, and his apparent lack of appetites and passions. But plastic is also durable and indispensable, and although a majority of Republican voters in the primaries so far have preferred Anyone but Romney, he appears poised to win the party’s presidential nomination. Despite the growing possibility that Romney may soon occupy the nation’s highest office, he remains an enigma to most Americans, and his campaign seems predicated on the hope that voters will see in his smooth surfaces whatever they want to see.

The great service of this new biography by the Boston Globe journalists Michael Kranish and Scott Helman is that it humanizes Romney. The authors sniff over their subject with bloodhound thoroughness, dredging up old report cards, housing deeds, and family records and videos. They interview seemingly everyone who had contact with Romney in every phase of his life. They conclude that he is in many ways an admirable man, deeply devoted to his religion and family and possessing stellar qualities that made him a success in business and public service, including his leadership of the 2002 Winter Olympics and his governorship of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007....

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