Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 20, 2007
POLITICS: George Romney, Martin Luther King and Mitt Romney's Recovered Memory


In his much-heralded and well-received speech on "Faith in America," Mitt Romney claimed as an example of his parents' moral example to him that "I saw my father march with Martin Luther King." On Sunday's Meet The Press, Gov. Romney repeated the same claim to deflect questions about his church's exclusionary policies - for context, I'll reprint the full Q&A with Tim Russert:

MR. RUSSERT: You, you raise the issue of color of skin. In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court, Brown vs. Board of Education, desegregated all our public schools. In 1964 civil rights laws giving full equality to black Americans. And yet it wasn't till 1978 that the Mormon church decided to allow blacks to participate fully. Here was the headlines in the papers in June of '78. "Mormon Church Dissolves Black Bias. Citing new revelation from God, the president of the Mormon Church decreed for the first time black males could fully participate in church rites." You were 31 years old, and your church was excluding blacks from full participation. Didn't you think, "What am I doing part of an organization that is viewed by many as a racist organization?"

GOV. ROMNEY: I'm very proud of my faith, and it's the faith of my fathers, and I certainly believe that it is a, a faith--well, it's true and I love my faith. And I'm not going to distance myself in any way from my faith. But you can see what I believed and what my family believed by looking at, at our lives. My dad marched with Martin Luther King. My mom was a tireless crusader for civil rights. You may recall that my dad walked out of the Republican convention in 1964 in San Francisco in part because Barry Goldwater, in his speech, gave my dad the impression that he was someone who was going to be weak on civil rights. So my dad's reputation, my mom's and my own has always been one of reaching out to people and not discriminating based upon race or anything else. And so those are my fundamental core beliefs, and I was anxious to see a change in, in my church.

I can remember when, when I heard about the change being made. I was driving home from, I think, it was law school, but I was driving home, going through the Fresh Pond rotary in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I heard it on the radio, and I pulled over and, and literally wept. Even at this day it's emotional, and so it's very deep and fundamental in my, in my life and my most core beliefs that all people are children of God. My faith has always told me that. My faith has also always told me that, in the eyes of God, every individual was, was merited the, the fullest degree of happiness in the hereafter, and I, and I had no question in my mind that African-Americans and, and blacks generally, would have every right and every benefit in the hereafter that anyone else had and that God is no respecter of persons.

(See here for Mark Kilmer's review of Sunday's MTP).

Well, it turns out that this is not accurate. An investigation by the Boston Phoenix, a left-leaning independent newspaper, turned up no evidence that the elder Gov. Romney ever marched with Dr. King, and Romney's campaign now says this wasn't intended to be taken as, well, fact:

On Wednesday, Romney's campaign said his recollections of watching his father, an ardent civil rights supporter, march with King were meant to be figurative.

"He was speaking figuratively, not literally," Eric Fehrnstrom, spokesman for the Romney campaign, said of the candidate.

Like so many things Romney, this is a new one from Mitt:

Nor did Mitt Romney ever previously claim that this took place, until long after his father passed away in 1995 - not even when defending accusations of the Mormon church's discriminatory past during his 1994 Senate campaign.

Now, in fairness to Romney, he seems to have had some basis for believing that this had happened, though that doesn't explain how he thinks he saw it happen:

Romney's campaign cited various historical articles, as well as a 1967 book written by Stephen Hess and Washington Post political columnist David Broder, as confirmation that George Romney marched with King in Grosse Pointe in 1963.

"He has marched with Martin Luther King through the exclusive Grosse Pointe suburb," Hess and Broder wrote in "The Republican Establishment: The Present and Future of the GOP."

Free Press archives, however, showed no record of King marching in Grosse Pointe in 1963 or of then-Gov. Romney taking part in King's historic march down Woodward Avenue in June of that year.

George Romney told the Free Press at the time that he didn't take part because it was on a Sunday and he avoided public appearances on the Sabbath because of his religion.

Romney did participate in a civil rights march protesting housing bias in Grosse Pointe just six days after the King march. According to the Free Press account, however, King was not there.

Broder could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

The Boston Phoenix reported Wednesday it could find no evidence that Romney and King ever marched together.

Mitt Romney's older brother, Detroit attorney Scott Romney, said he recalls his father telling him the elder Romney marched with King, possibly in 1963, but he could not remember exactly when the event took place.

Fehrnstrom called the Romney brothers' recollection and the historical materials a "pretty convincing case that George Romney did march with Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders in Michigan."

The governor's record was one of supporting civil rights. He helped create the state's first civil rights commission and marched at the head of a protest parade in Detroit days after violence against civil rights marchers in Selma, Ala., in 1965.


This latest unforced error is, however, precisely the problem I identified as Romney campaigning like a Democrat: candidates who feel compelled to demonstrate their authenticity by reference to their own biography, rather than by citing a consistent set of principled stands on the issues, invariably fall into the temptation to stretch that biography to cover things that never actually happened. We saw this repeatedly with Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry - remember Clinton's fables about watching non-existent church burnings in Arkansas? - and we Republicans rightly lambasted them for it.

If we nominate Romney and he walks into more traps like this in the general election campaign, we can't say we weren't warned.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:27 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

At the end of your piece you attack Democrats for exaggerating and making things up. Classic Republican partisanship. All politicians do this. Reagan did it, startling people with "real" memories that actually took place in the movies. Giuliani does it. If you want to analyze the issues like Sean Hannity and other anti-intellectual hacks, feel free to do so. You can attack Romney without throwing in the obligatory reference to the crimes of Democrats.

Posted by: steve at December 20, 2007 12:46 PM

Quote of the week:

"I saw him in the figurative sense "
- Mitt Romney clarifying how he saw his dad march with MLK.

Posted by: Patrick at December 20, 2007 8:34 PM

Quote of the week:

"I saw him in the figurative sense."

- Mitt Romney explaining how he saw his father march with MLK.

Posted by: Patrick at December 20, 2007 8:34 PM

Quote of the week:

"I saw him in the figurative sense "
- Mitt Romney clarifying how he saw his dad march with MLK.

Posted by: Patrick at December 20, 2007 8:34 PM

Romney's comment makes sence to me. You can use the word saw in a figurative sense. If you were looking at this point in time from his perspective I am sure he would have seen his father preparing for the trip or organizing the efforts of those he was planning the trip with. So from his perspective he did see his father walk with Martin Luther King Jr even though he did not see the actual walk. I think this is all just semantics. The main point is that Mitt Romney's family were supporters of civil rights and efforts were made to further that cause on their part. I do not belive Mitt was trying to mislead anyone.

Posted by: Matt at December 21, 2007 9:26 AM

I don't think Romney was trying to mislead anyone in this case - people often think they remember things in a way that they didn't actually happen. The underlying fact that his father supported King's cause seems to be true, and I can easily see how Romney came to believe he'd seen them march together.

At any rate, however, getting the facts wrong does him no favors.

Posted by: Jerry at December 22, 2007 10:20 PM

Matt -- hope you have fun at the Romney Campaign Christmas party. Adding a spelling mistake in the first sentence of Romney's talking points was a nice way to disguise yourself.

Posted by: Patrick at December 23, 2007 12:36 PM
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