Mitt is the man! With wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, he’s a shoe-in to be the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential candidate.
Mitt has proved the artful dodger. So far, he’s succeeded as the political chameleon, effectively rebranding himself from socially-moderate opportunist politician to corporate-conservative bottom-line businessman. To do this, he has effectively remade his past; he’s slippery, no one knows who he is or what he really stands for.
Increased media attention, driven by (of all parties) Newt Gingrich, has spotlighted his role at Bain, making clear he is less a businessman than a greedy banker, the quintessential representative of the current economic crisis. As a former employee of a manufacturing company he gutted observed, “All he knows is how to shovel cash from one pile to another pile.”
His tenure as governor of Massachusetts is quickly passed over; he has transformed himself from publically financed health-care advocate to sink-or-swim preacher, from passive defender of Roe to anti-choice moralist, from approver of same-sex unions to anti-gay bigot.
One issue of Romney’s past has yet to emerge in the 2012 campaign is his role as a pornographer. This scandal played a little-appreciated but critical role in his failed 2008 Iowa presidential campaign; it was not mentioned in the 2012 Iowa Republican caucuses battle, let alone in the New Hampshire run.
During the recent holiday season, millions of Americans likely watched Frank Capra’s classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. One can only wonder how many viewers of the movie were not struck by the similarity between Romney and Mr. Potter, the hard-ass capitalist who tries to crush good-hearted George Bailey? Under the conditions of America’s second great depression, it looks like the Republicans are running Mr. Potter’s grandson, Mitt, for president. Sadly, Obama does not represent George Bailey; who does?
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As the 2008 Iowa caucuses heated up, Ben Weyl warned in the Iowa Independent:
Mitt Romney regularly denounces the “cesspool” of pornography on the campaign trail. But recently, those would be supporters have been grumbling that Romney did not do enough to shut down hardcore movie options in Marriott hotels while he was on the company’s board for nearly a decade.
In July, AP reporter Glen Johnson broke the story of Romney’s link to porn programming. Romney served on the Marriott board from 1992 to 2001 and was chairman of its audit committee. During Romney’s tenure, Marriott contracted with On Command to provide in-room television services; in 2006, LodgeNet acquired On Command. When questioned by AP, Romney claimed that the issue of pornography never came up at board meetings and insisted that he did not know how much money porn generated for the hotel. Ignorance is bliss.
The Marriott is a Mormon-owned hotel chain and Romney, while on its board, received an annual fee of $25,000 and stock options. Ironically, Mitt Romney is named after the founder of the Marriott chain, J. Willard Marriott; Romney’s given name is Willard. Marriott was a close friend of Romney’s father, former Michigan governor George Romney, also a Mormon.
In January 2011, and in anticipation of Mitt’s presidential run, Marriott quietly ceased offering “adult” in-room TV services.
In 2008, Romney received a campaign contribution of $80,000 from Marriott; he received the same amount for his 2012 campaign.
In 2008, the culture wars were in full swing and social issues mattered; today, it a different story. When the Marriott porn story first broke, the Christian right was up in arms. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, denounced the Marriott board and, indirectly, Romney: “They have to assume some responsibility. It’s their hotels, it’s their television sets.”
Kim Lehman, president of the Iowa Right to Life Committee, warned: “If he [Romney] had the opportunity to protect families and didn’t take the opportunity, he’s going to be viewed as a hypocrite.” She added, “[i]f it’s true if he could have, but chose not to … and to say you’re for families and for children, when you have a tremendous opportunity to take, these are all issues he’s going to be faced with.”
Daniel Weiss, media analyst for James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family,” added to the rancor: “If [Romney] made money off pornography in the past, is he going to turn a blind eye to it if he’s president? Because as chief executive of the nation, it’s his responsibility to make sure our nation’s obscenity laws are efficiently and vigorously enforced.”
“Marriott is a major pornographer,” intoned Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values (CCV), an Ohio-based anti-pornography group. “And even though he may have fought it, everyone on that board is a hypocrite for presenting themselves as family values when their hotels offer 70 different types of hardcore pornography.”
As early as 2000, Burress started challenging Marriott over offering in-room TV porn. In 2006, he pulled together a coalition of Christian conservatives to wage his campaign; the coalition included Focus on the Family, the American Family Association of Michigan and the CCV. It took out a full-page ad in USA Today demanding the Department of Justice crack down on hotel porn, specifically targeting the Marriott and Hilton chains. No action was taken.
Also in 2000, the Michigan-based American Decency Association attacked Marriott over the distribution of in-room porn. J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr., the son of Marriott’s founder, defended porn distribution, claiming that it was offered as a separable TV offering. “The in-room entertainment operators who provide our systems rely upon a certain volume of movie types in order to be economically viable.” He argued that “[i]f we were to eliminate the ‘R’ and non-rated offerings, the systems would not be economic.”
This rationalization is obviously self-serving. In 2008, neither the The Omni Hotels nor the Ritz-Carlton offered in-room porn. Nevertheless, a buck is a buck and, in addition to Marriott, many leading corporations were then intimately involved in the hotel porn business, including Hilton, AT&T, Time Warner, General Motors, EchoStar, Liberty Media and Murdoch’s News Corporation.
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The saga of Romney, Marriott hotels and porn has taken a peculiar twist in light of the 2012 election. As Romney moved with calculated precision to the right and become ostensibly more conservative, the Marriott chain gave up offering porn but reached out for the gay dollar, becoming – what? – more liberal.
In early 2011, more than a decade after the controversy first erupted, Marriott ceased offering in-room porn TV services. As it announced:
Changing technology and how guests access entertainment has reduced the revenue hotels and their owners derive from in-room movies, including adult content. … This new platform of Internet-based video-on-demand will facilitate our exit from the traditional hotel video systems that included adult content in the menu selection, and will also provide guests greater choice and control over what they watch across our system.
With free broadband Internet in every room, the traveling businessman, laptop or tablet in hand, has his (or her) favorite porn sites queued up. So who needs in-room pay-per-view porn? Marriott executives made a business – as opposed to a moral — decision to dump porn.
In the spirit of following the money, Marriott has embraced gay organizations as a dedicated events constituency. It has partnered with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), the Human Rights Campaign, the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and American Airlines’ LGBT travel program.
Most social conservatives who voted for Romney probably didn’t know that the Marriott hotels are actively seeking gay couples for both their wedding ceremonies and honeymoons. As its website promotes: “Continue the magic of your union with the perfect honeymoon.”
Romney has followed a similar path as Marriott, but moved in the opposite direction. On the issues of abortion, no less an authority of Romney’s policies then Gingrich insists that he “governed pro-abortion.” Gingrich warns:
Romney appointed a pro-abortion judge, expanded access to abortion pills, put Planned Parenthood on a state medical board, but failed to put a pro-life group on the same board. And Romney signed government-mandated health care with taxpayer-funded abortions.
Yet, as governor, he opposed the morning-after contraceptive pill for rape victims.
Romney has repeatedly proclaimed: “I agree with 3,000 years of recorded history. Marriage is an institution between a man and a woman.” During the Iowa campaign, he proclaimed, “I oppose same-sex marriage. That’s been my position from the beginning.”
Little mention is made of the fact that, in 2005, as governor, he issued at least 189 special-issue, 1-day marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Nevertheless, the greatest fiction of the Romney campaign is that he presents himself as a businessman, indistinguishable for the small retail-store owner who lives or works next door. As one of the victims of his hedge-fund calculations reminds us, “All he knows is how to shovel cash from one pile to another pile.” He is, first and foremost, a banker, a speculator, a white-shoe gangster, a moneylender making a buck through usury.
While on the Marriott board, Romney’s support for offering porn signified his adherence of capitalism over Christian morals. It seems that for Romney, the church (Mormon, Evangelical or Jewish) was then – and remains – a parallel institution to the state; where one imposed moral discipline and conformity, the other functions as an apparatus of power and tax-collection serving corporate interests. Both serve the same goal, insuring the authority of the 1 percent. Watching him on the campaign stump, it seems that he still believes this in his heart-of-hearts. If he still has a heart.
David Rosen can be reached at email@example.com.