Man on a Mission: Romney's Vietnam Deferment
As Perrspectives has detailed before, Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney seems pathologically incapable of keeping his stories straight. Whether the issue is abortion, stem cell research, rights for gay Americans or even his state of residence, Romney's rhetorical contortions have become legendary. As the Boston Globe suggested Sunday, Romney's flip-flopping even extends to his Vietnam draft deferment.
As it turns out, Romney was one of a privileged number of Mormon missionaries who received Vietnam deferments in the 1960's. The controversial practice enabled the Mormon Church to designate a limited number of males in each of its wards for deferments. Unlike his brethren in Utah, Mitt the governor's son was comfortably ensconced in Michigan and had little competition for a deferment. As a result, "his 4-D exemption as a missionary [was] all but automatic." From July 1966 to February 1969, Romney performed his mission outside of Paris, not in the rice paddies outside of Hue.
Mitt's good fortune continued in 1970. Romney also enjoyed almost three years of deferments as a student before and after his French mission. And when the time came to go through the selective service lottery, Mitt drew a high number.
Sadly, Mitt's conflicting recollections about his Vietnam non-service show him once again as the artful dodger (pun intended). Back in May, the blog Eyeon08 recounted Romney's dueling self-portraits as alternately tormented and care-free when it came to his fortuitous escape from Vietnam:
The closest he has ever come to a personal religious crisis, he recalls, was when he was in college and considering whether to go off on a mission, as his grandfather, father and brother had done. Mitt was deeply in love with Ann, his high school sweetheart and future wife, and couldn't bear to spend more than two years away from her. He says he also felt guilty about the draft deferment he would get for it, when other young men his age were heading for Vietnam. (Time, May 2007)
Romney, however, acknowledged he did not have any desire to serve in the military during his college and missionary days, especially after he married and became a father. "I was not planning on signing up for the military," he 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. If drafted, I would have been happy to serve, and if I didn't get drafted I was happy to be with my wife and new child." (Boston Herald, 1994)
This latest chapter in the book of Romney flip-flops is just one more example of what Bill Maher writer Chris Kelly deemed Mitt's sense of romantic irony:
"Romantic irony -- the most wistful irony of all -- occurs when a character draws attention to the fact that he's just a character, or a narrator interrupts a story to remind the audience that it's just a story. And Mitt Romney -- alone among presidential hopefuls -- understands that he's a character in a work of art and that his character's job is to say anything, to anyone, at any time, to get elected."
Woody Allen's Zelig, however, might be a better analogy for Mitt Romney. His Vietnam deferment saga once again shows Romney as a human chameleon whose positions change as the latitude, longitude, time zone - and audience - require.