As much as we may love them on one level, presidential campaigns are awful enterprises. Candidates from both parties subject themselves to a seemingly endless series of bad chicken dinners at Holiday Inns, trudge through hundreds of rallies in rain and shine, and embrace a travel schedule that looks as if it was set by the devil himself. Nowadays, American presidential elections look less and less like a matter of informed choice than a bizarre offshoot of some Japanese game show designed to torture its contestants.
It is in that light, and with some sympathy, that we consider the six most import foreign-policy gaffes of the modern presidential era.
George Romney had a great deal to recommend him as a presidential candidate: handsome, a successful business executive, and a popular former governor. Yet, at the end of a long day of campaigning in August 1967, Romney irretrievably sank his presidential campaign when he tried to explain to Lou Gordon of WKBD-TV in Detroit why he had initially supported the war in Vietnam only later to oppose it. "When I came back from Vietnam, I'd just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get," said Romney of the hard sell that American generals had given him during a 1965 trip to that country. Romney argued that the war was a tragedy, and that it was no longer necessary for the United States "to get involved in South Vietnam to stop Communist aggression in Southeast Asia." In hindsight, Romney was both right about the war and the tendency of American generals to wildly inflate their purported successes on the ground. It mattered not, the word "brainwashing" was so loaded that Romney was savaged by opponents and ridiculed by comedians. Sen. Eugene McCarthy got off perhaps the sharpest barb, saying that in Romney's case a brainwashing was not necessary, "a light rinse would have been sufficient."