Mad Men Takes on George Romney. Romney Family Not Pleased.

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 2 2012 11:23 AM

Mad Men Takes on George Romney. Romney Family Not Pleased.

On last night's Mad Men, the aggressively unlikeable GOP macher Henry Francis made known his opinions of a rising party star. "[George] Romney's a clown," he said, urging against an appearance with the governor of Michigan. "I don't want him standing next to him."

The line was a hit with the few Washington politicos who watched AMC instead of heading to the Bruce Springsteen show. Politico's Alex Burns tweeted it. Tagg Romney, eldest grandson of the former Michigan governor, took offense.

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The "lib media" jab is hotter than Tagg usually gets. And it's a bit much. George Romney, who passed away in 1995, was a public figure. Mad Men's been rougher on other deceased 1960s icons. In Matthew Weiner's hands, Conrad Hilton turned into an alpha male weirdo obsessed with a moon hotel.

But I said it was a "bit" much. Tagg has a point. This episode of Mad Men was set in 1966, when George Romney was about to be re-elected governor. He was one of the best-known critics of the GOP's conservative wing; he trashed Barry Goldwater for his Civil Rights Act vote, and would say in speeches that "state's rights" was a weasely term that excused racism. A liberal New York Republican would like Romney.

Would Francis feel otherwise because Romney threatened his client's national ambitions? Maybe, but the "clown" line still sounds out of place. The myth of Romney's foolishness really got going when he gave an interview in 1967 about his shifting position on the Vietnam War. He said, mea culpa, that he'd had "the greatest brainwashing" from generals and the diplomatic core. It made him sound like a schmuck. ("A light rinse would have sufficed," said Gene McCarthy, one of the great snobs of American politics.) Tagg, if you want to keep this fight going, take it to anachronism court.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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