Crosscut

Romney and the world's fair, together again

Fifty years ago, when the Century 21 Exposition opened, a political career was also born that would echo to this day.

By Eric Scigliano

April 27, 2012.

Here’s more proof of the adage that things happen in pairs: a double echo from 50 years ago. On Feb. 9, 1962, Life magazine touted the upcoming “Fabulous Fair in Seattle,” the subject of this month’s anniversary celebrations, with a stirring photo of the Space Needle (dubbed simply “Seattle Fair’s Revolving Restaurant”) gleaming over the Sound and Olympics. Above it was a bigger teaser for another story: “Romney of Rambler: New Star in Politics.”

That was of course George Romney, Mitt’s father and CEO of American Motors, who was then running for governor of Michigan. (Memo to Tea Party: As governor, Romney greatly expanded Michigan’s government, got its first income tax passed, and spearheaded moderate opposition to Barry Goldwater’s bid for the 1964 Republican presidential nomination.)

The 50-year synchrony isn’t perfect; George Romney didn't run for president until six years later. His campaign floundered after a still-notorious gaffe, when he explained his since-recanted support for the Vietnam War by saying he’d been “brainwashed” by the generals. That left America to endure five-and-a-half years of President Richard Nixon.

Romney Sr.’s Vietnam stance was prescient, lending his fall an element of tragedy. And his gaffe now seems mild compared to some of son Mitt’s. Perhaps their case better illustrates an even hoarier dictum, from Karl Marx in a gloss on Hegel: “All great events and personalities in world history reappear … the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

The 1962 fair was, in the way of such events, more farcical than tragic, so it’s exempt.

Eric Scigliano's reporting on social and environmental issues for The Weekly (later Seattle Weekly) won Livingston, Kennedy, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and other honors. He has also written for Harper's, New Scientist, and many other publications. One of his books, Michelangelo's Mountain, was a finalist for the Washington Book Award. His other books include Puget Sound; Love, War, and Circuses (aka Seeing the Elephant); and, with Curtis E. Ebbesmeyer, Flotsametrics. Scigliano also works as a science writer at Washington Sea Grant, a marine science and environmental program based at the University of Washington. He can be reached at eric.scigliano@crosscut.com.

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Printed on September 30, 2014