Mitt Romney's Tin Ear

As Mitt Romney and the other Republican Presidential candidates debated in Rochester, Mich., Wednesday night, they might have been wise to glance over the chips on their right-wing shoulders to recent political events in that critical swing state.

The night before, in nearby Grand Blanc, voters recalled Paul Scott, a Republican state representative who had attacked both unionized teachers and school funding as chair of the House Education Committee.

It was Michigan's first recall in 28 years. Further north, in Traverse City, Mich., voters overwhelmingly stopped a conservative attempt to disable a law that prevented discrimination due to sexual orientation.

Those weren't the only straws in November's electoral wind around the Great Lakes.

To the south, across the Ohio border, more than 60 percent of the voters rejected a scheme by Republican Gov. John Kasich to severely damage the collective bargaining rights of public workers.

No doubt this result heartened the progressives in nearby Wisconsin who this week start collecting signatures to recall Scott Walker. Their Republican governor enraged workers last winter by ramming through a law that sharply curtails collective bargaining for government workers.

Perhaps the mood in this region -- captured by Republicans in 2010 -- is swinging back toward progressives and Democrats a year before President Obama's reelection bid.

At the very least, it shows how Republicans over-played their hand when they assumed a recession gave them the right to wage class warfare on citizens who make less than $1 million a year and don't play golf on private courses at elite country clubs.

One of the most concerned should be blue-blooded Romney, the likely Republican candidate, the favorite more so now after Rick Perry's latest brain cramp and Herman Cain's continuing sexual allegations.

While morphing from his previous posture as a progressive governor in Massachusetts into a knee-jerk right-winger on the national stage, Romney made a critical mistake before Obama rescued the economy from the Bush Crash of 2008.

Before Obama decided to save and restructure the failing automobile industry, Romney penned an essay titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."

He doubled down on Wednesday by claiming the "heavy-handed" government gave General Motors to the United Auto Workers instead of letting the "private sector" handle it.

Had Obama followed Romney's plan, the national economy would have plunged into a major depression and the Occupy Wall Street movement would be a lot more militant than it already is.

Instead, Obama forced GM and Chrysler to change how they did business and he got the UAW to go along. As a result, factories are open, car sales are up and the automakers are solvent.

Michigan's unemployment rate is falling and its housing market is improving. Notice how often Obama visits the state to the cheers of the citizens? And Michigan is not the only state where they build cars. Plenty of auto workers and others laboring in allied industries live in Ohio and Wisconsin.

Romney should have known better. He grew up in a plush suburb of Michigan, the son of George Romney, who was first an automobile executive and later the governor of Michigan. He, too, self-destructed.

George Romney also looked like a viable candidate for president in 1968 until he made a crucial mistake: He told the truth. On a Detroit television station, he said Americans were "brainwashed'' into the war in Vietnam.

It was hard to argue with that. Like George W. Bush's foolish war in Iraq, Vietnam was sold with trumped-up threats and false promises. But the word "brainwash" had a sinister connotation back then.

It suggested psychological damage. Voters turned against Romney; the Republicans nominated Richard Nixon. George Romney would have been a better president, but the point is moot.

As for Mitt, you have to wonder how his brain works and if he has out-smarted himself. He is probably more intelligent than most of his Republican opponents, although that's not saying much when Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are standing next to you.

They don't need a brainwashing; they need brains. Romney will probably get the nomination. But with his West Coast mansion, his multi-million-dollar fortune and his history of laying-off workers as a hedge-fund sharpie, Romney lacks the common-man appeal in his home state and those that surround it.

Even in the right-wing Wall Street Journal Thursday, Paul Gigot noted how Romney ducked a question about a flat tax while advocating tax breaks for capital gains and dividends enjoyed mostly by the wealthy.

That's not a pitch to win the devotion of the shot-and-a-beer guys after the late shift in the Ford Rouge plant. In a Journal article he wrote himself, Romney lapsed into Latin. "Si vis pacem, para bellum," he wrote. That means if you want peace, prepare for war. Perhaps Detroit rappers like Eminem will pick up on that catchy hook.

Should the auto business and the overall economy continue to improve, even a little bit, in the Great Lakes region, look for Democratic ads showing a picture of Romney's well-coiffed head (with his businessman's brain in it) next to the quote: "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."

Despite the delusions of Romney, Cain and other Republicans that Americans want "a businessman" to run our government "like a business," that might not be the case. In Wednesday's debate, Romney stuck to the doctrine that health care is best handled as a commodity in the market, as if people just can't wait to save up for that gall bladder removal they've always wanted.

In the last few years, American businessmen touting the free market have outsourced jobs, gambled with other people's money, laid off workers, hustled bogus mortgages and grabbed as much wealth as their manicured fingers could clutch. Maybe what people really want is a chance to get away from business as usual and from slick double-talkers like the glib Mitt Romney.

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