The Buzz

Bringing Romney to Life

The ostensible purpose for Louis Menand’s current New Yorker piece is to review a recent book on Mitt Romney called The Real Romney, by Boston Globe journalists Michael Kranish and Scott Helman. Menand mines the Kranish-Scott book for valuable insight into the GOP presidential candidate’s views on business and its importance to the common weal. But he goes beyond that in his effort to bring to life the Romney persona.

He quotes copiously from Romney’s own memoir, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. He probes two books about management consulting (Romney’s calling before he got into private equity): Christopher McKenna’s The World’s Newest Profession and Walter Kiechel's The Lords of Strategy. He offers some wistful thoughts about the liberal Republican tradition of Romney’s father, George, and suggests that, in his heart, that is the tradition that Romney most fervently wishes to embrace.

The result is a penetrating portrayal that pulls together elements of the man’s past with insight into what drives him. He is driven in part by the romance of entrepreneurial risk taking, although he himself took no risk when he agreed to head up the fledgling Bain Capital only after Bill Bain assured him that no risk would attach to him irrespective of the firm’s performance. Once there, he brought few investment opportunities to the firm, nor did he engage in helping to manage them. But, writes Menand, he “managed Bain Capital, and he did it very well.”

In the process, he developed a kind of Darwinian view of business, a devotion to Schumpeter’s “creative destruction.” But this Darwinism was not about people or species but about corporations and organizations, including states and countries. “The firm,” writes Menand, “is the basic unit of Romneyan analysis, and it is the fate of firms to grow or die.” This applies to the Unites States as well as to the office-product company Staples.

Menand speculates that if Romney can “dodge and feint his way past all his strange opponents, . . . he might arrive in November looking like a plausible candidate of the center.” That would be smart politics. This is smart analysis.