Darren Richardson

May 24, 2012

Even casual followers of the 2012 presidential campaign are aware that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee, is not the first person in the Romney family to pursue the highest office in the land.

George Romney, the American industrialist who headed American Motors before being elected to the governorship of Michigan in 1962, set his sights on the 1968 GOP presidential nomination in late 1967. But he came up far short of his goal largely because of his use of one little word – “brainwashing.”

Romney’s brainwashing reference resulted from a 1965 trip he took to Vietnam with nine other governors. At the time, Romney pledged his support for American efforts in Vietnam and the general battle against communism in Southeast Asia. But by August of 1967, his opinion of the war had changed.

“When I came back from Vietnam,” Romney said in a televised 1967 interview with journalist Lou Gordon, “I just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get when you go over to Vietnam. Not only by the generals but by the diplomatic corps over there, and they do a very thorough job.”

Public opinion on Vietnam shifting by 1967

It’s worth noting that many U.S. journalists and military personnel, as well as the general public, were coming to the same general conclusion that Romney did around that time. Just months later, in February of 1968, CBS News reporter Walter Cronkite famously declared: “To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, if unsatisfactory conclusion. … it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”

Romney’s brainwashing claims have arguably been borne out since the 1960s. The 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers, the 1971 congressional testimony given by Vietnam veteran John Kerry and the 1989 Pulitzer Prize winner for General Non-Fiction, Neil Sheehan’s “A Bright Shining Lie,” all support the elder Romney’s 1967 observation.

And yet, then as now, there is in some quarters a rush to condemn critics of a war, any war, as somehow less than patriotic. Surrogates for the Johnson administration were quick to condemn Romney’s frank remarks as harmful to U.S. troops, and the one-time GOP up-and-comer never saw his presidential campaign get off the ground.

Nixon, Kissinger waged secret wars in Southeast Asia

Instead, the hawkish Richard Nixon, who advocated an increase in bombing to win the Vietnam War, won the presidency in 1968 in a close contest against the incumbent Democratic vice president Hubert Humphrey and racist Southern demagogue George Wallace of Alabama. LBJ left office a broken man, lacking the energy or commitment to seek a second full term, the war in Vietnam a nightmare beyond his control. Romney served as Nixon’s Housing and Urban Development secretary from 1969 to 1973, leaving that year to make way for James T. Lynn after Nixon’s re-election. Nixon himself would resign the presidency in disgrace a relatively short time later, even while Secretary of State Henry Kissinger – a key proponent of the secret wars in Laos and Cambodia – stayed on to advise President Gerald Ford, Nixon’s successor.

Saigon fell to communist forces on April 30, 1975, even as the U.S. raced to evacuate its remaining troops and diplomatic personnel. Had Romney’s 1967 words been widely heeded instead of widely mocked, it is impossible to know exactly how things would have turned out, but we the living should at least have the intellectual honesty to acknowledge that Romney was, by almost any historical view, speaking the truth way back in 1967. We as a nation would have been wise to listen and do our own research before being so quick to condemn.

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VIDEO: George Romney brainwash interview on WKBD-TV, 1967, Lou Gordon Show

Wikipedia entry on George Romney

Industrialist turns politician, Windsor (Ontario) Star, Feb. 13, 1962

Romney sets Michigan try for governor, UPI story in Bend (Oregon) Daily News, Feb. 11, 1962

Major interest in Romney vote, Evening Independent, St. Petersburg, Fla., Aug. 7, 1962

Battles just starting for George Romney, Windsor (Ontario) Star, Nov. 8, 1962

Michigan voters favor Romney’s Constitution, Sumter Daily Item, April 2, 1963

Barry brings togetherness plea to Romney, Owosso Argus-Press, Sept. 26, 1964

Romney’s Vietnam stance in shrewd politics, Youngstown Vindicator, April 12, 1967

Romney’s ‘brainwashing’ charge lacks support, Spokane Daily Chronicle, Sept. 5, 1967

Others on Romney Viet trip ‘unaware of brainwashing,’ Milwaukee Sentinel, Sept. 6, 1967

Romney accuses Johnson over Vietnam War, Glasgow Herald, Sept. 7, 1967

Romney Beats Nixon in race for key man, Milwaukee Sentinel, Sept. 13, 1967

Who to fill where Romney fell?, Sept. 14, 1967, St. Petersburg Times

Did George Romney Make the Wrong Move?, The Montreal Gazette, Sept. 15, 1967

Romney now fourth on survey indicator, Lodi News-Sentinel, Sept. 20, 1967

Hard facts on brainwashing, Southeast Missourian, Oct. 2, 1967

‘Brainwashing’ talk hurts U.S. cause in Vietnam War,’ Spokane Daily Chronicle, Oct. 3, 1967

Romney blames press for setback in the polls, The Dispatch, Lexington, N.C, Jan. 3, 1968

Romney: For Whom the Polls Toll, St. Petersburg Times, Jan. 15, 1968

Romney’s hopes are dead, but he can’t see it, Clayton Fritchey column in the Miami News, Jan. 16, 1968

Even Romney withdrawal had elements of failure, Inside Report in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 4, 1968

One little word proved a death blow to George Romney’s presidential hopes, The Victoria Texas) Advocate March 8, 1968

Romney decided Rockefeller was using him; so he quit, Drew Pearson column, The Palm Beach Post, March 5, 1968

Romney again cites ‘brainwashed’ term, Lodi News-Sentinel, May 10, 1969

Romney storms out of Gordon interview, Beaver County Times, Feb. 21, 1973

Final Words: Cronkite’s Vietnam Commentary, NPR, July 18, 2009

Fact check: Romney on his dad growing up poor, Wall Street Journal, April 26, 2012