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Last summer, on a "Face the Nation" program, Governor George Romney baffled the press with vague, contradictory answers to questions about Vietnam. After that, he refused to express opinions on Vietnam until he could "thoroughly study the situation" and promised to speak "at the proper time."
Under considerable pressure from some of his strongest Eastern supporters--Senators Javits, Scott, and Brooke, and Governor Rockefeller -- Romney chose his visit to Hartford last Friday as the proper time. He should be praised for ending his chronic irresolution.
There was, however, no constructive criticism in Romney's first major Vietnam address -- and it was chimerical to expect any. What he did was to favor a middle course and project himself into the middle of the Republican Party. He warned against "massive military escalation in Vietnam," but emphasized that the United States' military effort "must succeed." In short, it was the President's policy.
Romney never specifically dealt with the bombing of the North. But he did much to placate the hostile right wing of the GOP by stating "we must use military force as necessary to reduce or cut off the flow of men and supplies from North Vietnam, to knock out enemy main force units, and to provide a shield for the South." Although several weeks ago at Harvard Romney said he did not have the necessary information to comment on tactics, he has now, in effect, endorsed the President's belief that military aggression in the North is essential in bringing about a successful settlement. The only criticisms the Governor voiced were safe ones -- a condemnation of the original commitment of U.S. troops and an attack on the Administration's lack of frankness.
Romney was never one to buck consensus opinions or to favor unpopular policies, and this speech was no exception. His stand perfectly suited his apolifical image. Romney always has preferred to campaign on his pure character and successful administration rather than on policies, and he was very much in character when he stated at Hartford that the war should not be made a matter of partisan politics.
The Governor's stand and the opinions expressed recently by leading Eastern Republicans indicate that they do not want the party to make the strategy of the Vietnamese war an issue for 1968. Perhaps they intend, even while agreeing with Johnson's policies, to encourage and capitalize on widespread distaste for him. Such a campaign, in which neither major party would offer any new alternatives for settling the Vietnamese war, would make a mockery of the American political system.
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