Mitt Romney has five strapping sons, and not one of them has ever served in the military. When asked about this in Bettendorf, Iowa, the...

Share story

Mitt Romney has five strapping sons, and not one of them has ever served in the military. When asked about this in Bettendorf, Iowa, the Republican presidential hopeful said that “one of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping to get me elected.” He noted that his boy Josh had driven a Winnebago to all of Iowa’s 99 counties — all 99 of them!

There has been a lot of back-and-forth over this tactless comment. Jim Geraghty wrote on National Review Online that he’s “tired” of the “chicken-hawk line of attack.” These are the accusations, usually from the left, that politicians who cheerlead forneocon wars, but always leave the fighting to other people and their children, are hypocrites. Though unhappy with Romney’s response, Geraghty characterized the question as “rude” and the candidate’s answer as merely “off-key.”

Lisa De Pasquale of the American Conservative Union avoided the question and instead went after the questioner. She dismissed Rachel Griffiths as an “anti-war Daily Kos diarist,” which is a bad thing in her circle. Griffiths is that, and she is also the sister of an Army major who had served in Iraq.

Let’s pin down the real problem. We know that the armed forces are all-volunteer (“the good news,” Mitt said) and that few children of the rich have much to do with it. If military service were a prerequisite for becoming president, most of the current contenders would be out of the running. The only candidates making the cut would be Arizona Sen. John McCain, California Rep. Duncan Hunter and Texan Rep. Ron Paul on the Republican side, and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel on the Democratic.

What’s crashingly offensive about Romney’s response isn’t a small set of ill-chosen words but the entire universe of assumptions behind them. Throughout the campaign, Romney has showcased his athletic boys, ages 26 to 37, as all that is good about America and himself. It apparently never occurred to him that anyone in the audience would place his five princes in the same thought as Sadr City.

The official Romney Web site even features a “Five Brothers” blog — a youthful jaunt across a cloudless America that seems solar systems away from the Sunni triangle. Son Craig talks about how he and brothers Josh and Matt participated in the Annual Great Bicycle Ride across Iowa. (Two of them had trained on a hotel’s stationary bikes, we are told.) Photos show the clan boating in New Hampshire, bonding after a volleyball match and enjoying a game at Boston’s Fenway Park.

And the boys’ day jobs? Ben attends medical school in Boston, Craig works for an ad agency in New York, Josh develops real estate in Salt Lake City, and Matt manages commercial properties in San Diego.

Tagg helps run his father’s campaign and gets a bit political on his blog. He writes that New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, wants to “raise taxes, grow government, take over health care and run away from Iraq.”

So while the “chicken-hawk” label could stick to most of the candidates, there’s something especially jarring about the Romney family portrait: six hunky males, all untouched by military service. (During the Vietnam War, Mitt obtained a draft deferment to do missionary work in France.)

As part of his answer to the “rude” question, Romney called for a “surge of support” for the troops. A more politically astute response would have been to propose a national program requiring everyone’s children, including his own, to serve their country in some fashion.

It’s a good bet that the idea never crossed his mind.

Providence Journal columnist Froma Harrop’s column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is