Artifact Two: Mitt Romney Protesting the Protesters

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In the lead-up to The Choice 2012, FRONTLINE’s hotly anticipated dual biography of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, we’re publishing “The Artifacts of Character,” a series of rarely seen objects that elucidate key moments and experiences in the candidates’ lives. Each Monday and Thursday for the next three weeks, we’ll publish a new artifact for each candidate. Check back on Thursday for our next pair of artifacts.

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artifact one

Photo Credit: AP/San Francisco Examiner

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It was in his freshman year at Stanford University that a young Mitt Romney took an early step toward establishing a political identity all his own. Students had turned against the Vietnam War, and in May 1966, they staged a sit-in at the office of the university president to protest the draft.

“In Mitt Romney’s mind, this is not how you make change,” Romney biographer Scott Helman told FRONTLINE. “He is the kind of guy who would work within an institution, would follow the rules.”

In keeping with that spirit, Romney took to his own form of protest that spring day. Sporting khakis and a blazer, he joined a counter-demonstration seeking to restore order on the traditionally buttoned-down Stanford campus. His message, spelled out on a picket sign, was “Speak out, don’t sit in.”

While anti-war protests may not have been for him, Romney did show traces of a rebellious side in college, secretly flying home to Michigan to visit his future wife, Ann Davies.

“His parents don’t really know. It’s the closest thing … to rebellion that Mitt Romney goes through during the ’60s,” said Helman.

Romney would later change his tone on Vietnam. In 1967, he watched his father, then a candidate for the Republican nomination, describe his onetime support for the war as the result of a “brainwashing.” By 1970, Romney was echoing his dad, calling the war “a political blunder.”

Coming Friday: A discussion of this week’s artifacts with David Maraniss (Barack Obama: The Story), Jodi Kantor (The Obamas), Michael Kranish and Scott Helman (The Real Romney) and Washington Post reporter Jason Horowitz.

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