Opinion: “Son of Detroit”

At Tuesday night’s debate, Barack Obama went for a David Spade cultural reference -- “the ’80s called, they want their foreign policy back,” he said, mocking Mitt Romney’s statement that Russia is America’s biggest geopolitical threat. Romney went for Kid Rock.

“I’m a son of Detroit,” Romney declared, when Obama accused him of opposing a government bailout of the auto industry during the economic crisis of late 2008.

Kid Rock, who has tried to inherit the redneck rocker mantle from Lynyrd Skynyrd and Ted Nugent, is a big Romney supporter. He’ll be a warm-up act for the challenger at a campaign stop in Colorado Tuesday.

    I’m a redneck, rock and roll son of Detroit
    I don’t like no new wave techno band around
    When I’ma drink a couple dozen beers I go out and jam some gears
    I’m a long haired, redneck, rock and roll son of Detroit

Romney’s not a son of Detroit in that sense. He probably doesn’t like new wave techno bands, but he doesn’t have long hair or drink beer, either. Romney was trying to remind viewers of his upbringing as a prince of the auto industry. Romney’s father, George Romney, was president of the American Motor Company in the 1960s, responsible for the Nash Rambler, the first successful domestic compact car. Only a Ford could have been more privileged. When Romney rode with his father to the North American Auto Show, they were led by a police escort. He went to high school at Cranbrook, the private academy that also produced Michael Kinsley, Thomas McGuane, Daniel Ellsberg and other Detroiters who went on to make it big outside the state. Romney could have had his own career in the auto industry, but he wanted to make a name for himself outside his father’s shadow. As soon as he turned 18, Romney left for Stanford, Brigham Young, Harvard and Bain Capital, the private equity firm where he amassed a multimillion-dollar fortune.

Campaigning for the Republican nomination in early 2008, Romney promised to revive the American auto industry by loosening federal fuel efficiency standards.

“I hear people say, ‘It’s gone, those jobs are gone, transportation’s gone, it’s not coming back,’” he said at a campaign stop in Michigan. “I’m going to fight for every single job. I’m going to rebuild the industry. I’m going to take burdens off the back of the auto industry.”

At the end of the year, though, he wrote an Op-ed for The New York Times titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” in which he declared that if GM and Chrysler took money from the government, “you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye.” In fact, the two companies are more profitable than they’ve been in years.

Kid Rock’s “Son of Detroit” describes a Detroiter of an older generation. Detroit’s most popular music festival, Movement, is devoted to techno. It draws electronic music fans from all over the world. Romney may be a son of Detroit, but it’s the Detroit of the 1950s and ’60s, not the Detroit of today.

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