Just now I saw Lawrence O'Donnell flash this image onscreen while decrying Mitt Romney's stance on the Vietnam War. At the time this shot was taken -- summer, 1968 -- Mitt was on a beach in France, having received a deferment from the draft to preach the word of Joseph Smith to the people of Gaul. That deferment was Uncle Sam's special gift to the Mormon Church.
What fried O'Donnell was the fact that Mitt Romney had also participated in what may be the only pro-war, pro-draft demonstration ever held on a college campus. That was in 1965, in Stanford. One must quickly admit that there seemed to be a century's worth of difference between 1965 and 1968; George Romney (Mitt's father) originally supported the war but later declared that the military had "brainwashed" him. He took a lot of heat for that remark, from both the right and the left. I think he demonstrated courage when he admitted in public that his views had changed.
Did the younger Romney do likewise? I see no evidence that he had mustered up the same courage. This analysis
indicates that Mitt refused to take a stand:
In 1965, as an undergraduate at Stanford, [Mitt] Romney not only supported the war in Vietnam, he participated in pro-war protests. That same year, he sought and received his first deferment.
A year later, Romney received a longer-than-usual 4-D deferment, which allowed him to do Mormon missionary work in France, despite the fact that other "young Mormon men elsewhere were denied that same status," and the Mormon Church, which backed the war, "limited the number of church missionaries allowed to defer their military service using the religious exemption."
By 1969, Romney had completed his work in France, but sought and received new deferments.
Many years later, in 1994, Romney said, "It was not my desire to go off and serve in Vietnam, but nor did I take any actions to remove myself from the pool of young men who were eligible for the draft." That wasn't true -- he took several steps to remove himself from the eligibility pool.
By 2007, Romney, a presidential candidate, argued. "I longed in many respects to actually be in Vietnam and be representing our country there, and in some ways it was frustrating not to feel like I was there as part of the troops that were fighting in Vietnam."
But that's not what he said in 1994, and if "longed" to serve in the war he protested to support, Romney probably shouldn't have gone so far out of his way to make sure he didn't have to go.
Again, I can appreciate why this all seems like ancient history. But if Romney has misled voters about his decision to avoid military service during a war -- and there's ample reason to believe he has -- that's clearly a legitimate campaign issue. For that matter, if Romney benefited from preferential treatment, unavailable to those who weren't born into a wealthy and politically influential family, that matters, too.
Before you say it -- of course
I know that Bill Clinton also sought to escape military service. (Rush Limbaugh used to call him a "draft dodger." I wonder why Rush doesn't use that term nowadays?) The difference is that Clinton also went on record as stating that he thought the entire war was misguided, and that the American military should get out of Vietnam. He didn't take the stance that others should fight in his stead.
That said, I must also make this concession: The outrage O'Donnell directs toward Mitt Romney over this issue probably wouldn't have been expressed by many young people in 1968. If you weren't alive then, you may not understand that, back then, most with-it anti-war twenty-somethings would have interpreted the "Mitt on the beach" image in a very different way.
Most of them would have seen that photo and said: "Far out, man."
Instead of making war, Mitt made love -- on the beach. At least, he made the word
"love," in very large letters.
At the time, every hippie in America and every baba-cool
in France would have considered him très