Will this become the next photo of Mitt Romney's early years to go viral?

Jan 17, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Out of all those in the GOP field vying for the party's presidential nomination, Mitt Romney has faced enormous scrutiny for his activities prior to becoming a career politician (or "not" becoming a career politician if you take his word for it).

It might be difficult to imagine the man who expressed with ease on national television that the complaints about excessive greed springing up in the media lately are products of "envy" and "class warfare" would have ever found a reason to protest anything.

But, a well-groomed 19-year-old Romney is seen in the above photo accompanying a group of protesters on Stanford University's campus in the spring of 1966 after a group of anti-Vietnam War students took over the office of the university's president. The Associated Press dug up the photo from its library and provided it to BuzzFeed.com.

The Daily Mail in the UK writes that the anti-war students were protesting a university test soon to be implemented which would aid authorities in deciding who was eligible for the draft.

Romney and his group of protesters were picketing in favor of the university's decision and the war efforts in Asia.

The Daily Mail continues:

Mr Romney was one of approximately 150 conservative students who counter-picketed the sit-in.

Carey Coulter was one of the demonstrators alongside Mr Romney that day. He told BuzzFeed.com: 'We were there to get an education and these people holding the administration hostage was antithetical to that.

'Mitt walked up to me and said that he had some experience with the press, and that he would handle the press for me if I wanted him to. I said fine, because I was busy running the demonstration.

'I don't recall ever seeing him again.'

Romney was exempt from the draft because of his status as a Mormon missionary. Soon after the protest at Stanford, he went to France to begin his work.

Contrary to his repeated assertion that as a missionary in France he lived in shabby apartments, The Telegraph spoke to fellow missionaries who described Romney's place of residence as a palace:

It featured stained glass windows, chandeliers, and an extensive art collection. It was staffed by two servants – a Spanish chef and a houseboy.

Although he spent time in other French cities, for most of 1968, Mr Romney lived in the Mission Home, a 19th century neoclassical building in the French capital’s chic 16th arrondissement. “It was a house built by and for rich people,” said Richard Anderson, the son of the mission president at the time of Mr Romney’s stay. “I would describe it as a palace”.

His father, a former Michigan governor, initially expressed support for the war after travelling to Vietnam in 1965. But after going back two years later, began criticizing it, calling the initial experience "the greatest brainwashing anybody can get when you go over to Vietnam."

Based on previous accounts of Romney's years as a missionary, his genuine stance toward Vietnam and his desire to be involved in the war effort remains unclear.

In 2007 Time ran a story on the heels of his first presidential run where he addressed his back-and-forth issue. Romney painted a picture of a young man torn between love, tradition and concern about the draft exemption.

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.

A few months later, the New York Times ran a story describing the day-to-day duties of Mormon missionaries and Romney while in France.

They were discouraged from staying in touch with current events back home as the country was exploding with sit-ins, race riots and marches. Instead, they'd spend twelve hours a day going door-to-door, sometimes defending the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War if they were met with hostility.

Mr. Romney, though, said that he sometimes had wished he were in Vietnam instead of France. “There were surely times on my mission when I was having a particularly difficult time accomplishing very little when I would have longed for the chance to be serving in the military,” he said in an interview, “but that was not to be.”

He was so far removed from the chaos in the U.S. that he was surprised to find his father's views on the war changed.

Mr. Romney recalled, “when I heard my father, then running for president, say that we were wrong, that we had been told lies by our military, that the course of the war was not going as well as we thought it was and that we had been mistaken when we had entered the war. It obviously caused me to reconsider what I had previously thought.”

He added, “Ultimately, I came to believe that he was right.”

But in 1994 while up against Ted Kennedy for his seat in the U.S. Senate, Romney was quoted in the Boston Herald as saying:

"I was not planning on signing up for the military. 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."