Romney’s Churchill Gaffe: A Small But Not a Large Clang

Romney’s Churchill Gaffe: A Small But Not a Large Clang

Mitt Rom­ney (Image: AP)

Writ­ing for Busi­ness Insid­er on Sep­tem­ber 29th, Grace Wyler cor­rect­ly reports a Churchill mis­quote by pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mitt Rom­ney.

Defend­ing him­self from charges that he is a “flip-flop­per,” Wyler writes, Rom­ney con­fused “the Brit every Repub­li­can loves with the Brit every Repub­li­can loves to hate.” Here accord­ing to NBC is what Gov­er­nor Rom­ney said:

In the pri­vate sec­tor, if you don’t change your view when the facts change, well you’ll get fired for being stub­born and stu­pid. Win­ston Churchill said, “When facts change, I change too, madam.”

Wyler accu­rate­ly notes that this was said by John May­nard Keynes, “the British econ­o­mist whose the­o­ries about gov­ern­ment inter­ven­tion in the econ­o­my [are] reviled by con­ser­v­a­tives every­where.” (Keynes’s actu­al words were: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”)

I heard Romney’s remark with only a small clang, instead of the large one I usu­al­ly hear when Churchill is misquoted—because, while Rom­ney had the attri­bu­tion wrong, he had Churchill’s sen­ti­ments right.

Churchill changed par­ties twice (effec­tive­ly plac­ing him­self against some of the peo­ple, all of the time). He even wrote an arti­cle defend­ing him­self: “Con­sis­ten­cy in Pol­i­tics” (Nash’s Pall Mall, July 1927, reprint­ed in his book Thoughts and Adven­tures):

The only way a man can remain con­sis­tent amid chang­ing cir­cum­stances is to change with them while pre­serv­ing the same dom­i­nat­ing pur­pose.

That was quite true. It is impor­tant to dis­cern that while he some­times changed posi­tions on a par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal issue, Churchill did try to main­tain his dom­i­nat­ing pur­pos­es: the oppo­si­tion to tyran­ny, the defense of lib­er­ty.

A quar­ter cen­tu­ry lat­er, on 5 May 1952, chid­ed for chang­ing his mind in the House of Com­mons, Churchill retort­ed:

My views are a har­mo­nious process which keeps them in rela­tion to the cur­rent move­ments of events.

When Queen Eliz­a­beth II was crowned in 1953, Churchill mused over his diehard sup­port for her uncle, Edward VIII, who had abdi­cat­ed in 1936 in favor of his broth­er, George VI, Britain’s wartime sov­er­eign:

I’m glad I was wrong. We could not have had a bet­ter King. And now we have this splen­did Queen.

The main rea­son Churchill flipped so many times was the extra­or­di­nary length of his polit­i­cal career: fifty years on the scene. When after World War II, the Labour Par­ty wished fur­ther to curb the pow­er of the House of Lords, Prime Min­is­ter Attlee quot­ed what Churchill, now a Con­ser­v­a­tive, had said about the Lords in 1911, as a Lib­er­al. Churchill had called the Lords “one-sided, hered­i­tary, unpurged, unrep­re­sen­ta­tive, irre­spon­si­ble, absen­tee.” Churchill replied:

Real­ly, I do believe there ought to be a statute of lim­i­ta­tions on my remarks. I’m will­ing to be held respon­si­ble for any­thing I’ve said for the past thir­ty years, but before that I think a veil should be drawn over the past.

How many politi­cians last long enough to make that par­tic­u­lar request?

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Quo­ta­tions from Finest Hour and Churchill By Him­self

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