By Andrew Longman
Mitt Romney doesn’t describe himself as a draft dodger. He does his best to portray an “apple pie and the flag” image of Americana. He likes to be known as Mr. Toughguy and a strong-military Republican. And so it may come as a bit of a shock to the average reader to learn that Romney wiggled out of the draft during Vietnam. It’s one of the many concussions from Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman in their new book, “The Real Romney.”
Willard “Mitt” Romney started college with an academic deferment. Being at Stanford was an automatic get-out-of-war-free card for him, the reasons our country allowed college students this at the time being a worthy focus for another column. But then Romney left Stanford to go work full-time for the Mormons.
The Mormons declared their young men to be missionaries, officially “ministers of religion,” and, as such, gave them opportunity to avoid the draft. Not all could – the Selective Service limited the numbers of these deferments that were allowed – but Romney, being from Michigan, which had few Mormons, and being well-connected, was able to snag one. In trade for two years of proselytizing in France, Romney got out of Vietnam.
A lawsuit was filed against the Mormons because of sweetheart deals like Mitt got. What most non-Mormon denominations don’t realize is that the Mormons require a two-year mandatory service trip for 100 percent of Mormon young men. The lawsuit said the Mormons were essentially abusing the religious exemption in that most other faiths were granted these waivers only for lifelong clergy positions such as a Catholic priest or Protestant pastor. But the Mormons mass-produced exemptions for their young men right in the middle of their prime war-fighting years.
Mitt Romney, surprisingly, has been on both sides of this issue. He has said, “I longed in many respects to actually be in Vietnam and be representing our country there. …” He has also said, “I was not planning on signing up for the military. It was not my desire to go off and serve in Vietnam.” You could perhaps say that he wanted the draft but didn’t inhale. After years of student and Mormon deferments, he entered the lottery and won; Romney never served.
Romney’s father was also famous for being on both sides of the Vietnam issue. At the time, George Romney was governor of Michigan and the leader of the Republican In Name Only (RINO) faction of his party. He was so concerned about not looking like a Republican that in one election none of his gubernatorial campaign literature named his party affiliation. President Kennedy, while campaigning for Romney’s opponent, called George Romney out on it, openly mocking him for wanting to be a Democrat.
But if George Romney equivocated on things Republican, he did so even more on things Vietnam. Accused by a Michigan local TV reporter of being inconsistent on the war, having recently flipped from being a hawk to a dove, George Romney replied:
“Well, you know, when I came back from Vietnam, I had just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get. …”
He went on to say the generals and the diplomatic corps had been the ones “brainwashing” him on his visit there.
The lightning quick reversal by this supposed tough Republican, along with the implication that he was easily swayed to make polar swings in his opinion under pressure of a sales pitch, cost George Romney the Republican nomination for president. He was trying to rival Richard Nixon, but when the public heard the turn-on-a-dime flip-flop in his opinion, in combination with what seemed like a weak-willed and vacuous reason for the change, his support dropped like a brick. George Romney was just a weather-vane RINO who would quickly go with whatever way the wind was blowing.
And there you have it – the Romney family on Vietnam; they voted for it before they voted against it.
Andrew Longman is a Christian and an applied scientist.