Political Hay

Mitt Is Right: No More Tax Returns

Romney battles the "Fat Jap Syndrome."

By 7.19.12

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Fat Jap Syndrome.

I know, I know. Offensive sounding, yes? Yes.

But it has a history in presidential campaigns. In fact, the Obama campaign is playing this offensive game right now.

Let' start with the history.

Literally, Gene Oishi was the first "Fat Jap" in a modern television-era presidential campaign.

Who is Gene Oishi?

In 1968 Mr. Oishi was a reporter for the Baltimore Sun. Assigned to cover the vice-presidential nominee of the Republican Party, Maryland Governor Spiro T. Agnew.

Agnew had known Oishi for years as Oishi was a reporter for Maryland's largest newspaper. Alas, Spiro Agnew, a second-generation son of Greek immigrants, had a tendency that was considerable among ethnic groups of the day -- which is to say, referring to someone by the ethnic slang relevant to that person's ethnicity. Words that today cause people to wince.

To be precise, if one were Polish, the term of use was "Polack." Agnew had used exactly that term within earshot of reporters, and what we now call a minor "media feeding frenzy" ensued. But the second time it happened, Agnew was not so lucky. The then-Governor (and soon-to-be vice president) used a term that was widely used during World War II and was still current 23 years later in 1968.

Which is to say, if one were of Japanese descent one was called a "Jap." 

Lest there be any doubt of exactly how widespread the latter was, and how accepted, President Franklin Roosevelt took to one of his famous fireside chats on July 28, 1943 to report on the status of the war. Discussing the war in the Pacific he told the nation:n"In the Pacific, we are pushing the Japs around from the Aleutians to New Guinea."

At about the same time, as seen in this video, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt did the same thing. Speaking in 1943 to a group of American soldiers in one of her famously frequent trips to various war zones, Mrs. Roosevelt was using the exact same term. As seen, Mrs. Roosevelt tells a joke about a Marine and, in her words, "a Jap" -- a reference she uses several times to gales of laughter from her audience.

Controversy over both the President of the United States and the First Lady -- Democrats both -- talking this way?

Right. Exactly none. Zero. Zip. Nada.

But the media changed the rules of the game during the 1968 campaign. And that change has direct relevance to the 2012 campaign and the so-called controversy over Mitt Romney's taxes.

During a campaign swing, in a private setting somewhere (the campaign plane or some such), the jovial Agnew laughingly referred to his friend Gene Oishi, who was a Japanese-American, as "the Fat Jap." Having known Oishi as long as he did, Agnew saw his laughing remark as what he intended it to be -- a fond, fraternal ethnic reference from one immigrant's son to another. In fact, in using the term "Jap" he was doing no more and no less than what Franklin Roosevelt did in a formal presidential radio address to the nation and what Eleanor Roosevelt had done -- on camera. The term, however distasteful it may be seen today, was then commonplace.

But suddenly, what was OK for the liberal FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt was not OK for Republican Spiro Agnew. While reporter Oishi was reluctant to say anything, the Washington Post, as the redoubtable Larry Sabato later wrote, "eventually broke the story, forcing a flustered Agnew to offer excuses and then apologies." Sabato, a professor at the University of Virginia, included the incident in his 1991 book Feeding Frenzy: How Attack Journalism Has Transformed American Politics.

Now.

What, exactly, did Agnew's "Fat Jap" remark have to do with what were the three central issues of the 1968 campaign -- Vietnam, the economy, and crime? The latter issue of hot relevance in the day after four years of massive riots in places like Los Angeles, Newark, Detroit, and Washington, D.C.?

Answer: nothing.

Agnew's "Fat Jap" remark in 1968 was in fact what we might now call the original appearance of a political game called "Fat Jap Syndrome." Which is to say, Agnew's "Fat Jap" line -- however inappropriate it may seem then or now -- bore absolutely no relevance to any of the major issues of the day. The resulting manufactured controversy -- ginned up by the liberal Washington Post and quickly magnified by the liberal media print and broadcast outlets of the day -- was solely designed to momentarily take voters' eyes away from the issues of Lyndon Johnson's record as president. Not to mention the consequent linkage of Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey's record as LBJ's vice president.

To wit: the original "Fat Jap" controversy was a rabbit chase. Entertaining, a media-fashioned "gotcha" moment designed to both distract from the major issues while trying to damage Agnew -- and by extension Nixon -- as a bigot. Charges the media of the day simply refused outright to make against the liberal Roosevelts who used exactly the same term.

You know, that old liberal media double-standard thing.

This is precisely what the squabble over Mitt Romney's taxes is all about. Romney's taxes are nothing more or less than the latest round in a 2012 game of "Fat Jap Syndrome."

Senator John McCain, who reviewed some 20 years of Romney tax returns when considering the Governor as a potential 2008 running mate, says he saw absolutely nothing amiss. Doubtless true.

That, however, is not the point. If Mitt Romney were to release a lifetime of well-in-order, nothing-amiss tax returns, Team Obama would find the "Fat Jap" -- the political gotcha.

And they would use it precisely as the liberal media of the day in 1968 used Agnew's remark. As a distraction, a rabbit chase -- this time, in 2012, to distract from the Obama record. Just as the original "Fat Jap" remark was used in 1968 to distract from the Johnson-Humphrey record.

The difference now is that playing "Fat Jap Syndrome" is commonplace, an everyday occurrence when Republicans deal with the liberal media.

But, thankfully, there's a problem for the Left.

The liberal media, to its anger, no longer has the media playing field to itself. Rush is out there, Number One on radio and on the Internet. Sean and Levin and all of conservative talk radio are out there. All of them and more know how to play Fat Jap Syndrome as well as the other side. Donald Trump has typically stepped up to the plate -- demanding Obama's college applications, his grades, his passport records, the records from the Obama real estate deal with convicted felon Tony Rezko. Mark Levin has asked for the names of Obama's drug dealers from the days of Obama's self-admitted drug use. Every time the discussion moves away from Obama's record, there will be conservatives in the face of the Obama campaign ready to play the political hard ball that is Fat Jap Syndrome. Indeed, in one of the twists of fate that especially angers liberals, Fox News was created by Roger Ailes -- the very man who, as a Nixon media adviser in 1968, was there in person to take note of just how the game of "Fat Jap Syndrome" was originally played. Doubtless as a result, Fox News can spot "Fat Jap Syndrome" from miles away. 

What should Romney do?

Answer -- in spite of all these conservative commentators to the contrary -- Romney should do exactly what he is doing.

The very first thing he should do is not listen to the Inside the Beltway chattering class that loves the rabbit chase aspect of "Fat Jap Syndrome."

Why?

Because the moment Romney releases more tax returns he will be "Fat Japped" -- twice.

Once for whatever phony-baloney "scandal" can be juiced out of the tax returns themselves. Then, a second time, for… the next "Fat Jap." Still unseen and unknown but most assuredly out there somewhere, just waiting for an Obama acolyte to run to their liberal media buddies shrieking "Fat Jap! Fat Jap!"

Meanwhile, Barack Obama skates.

It is safe to say in 2012 that there is considerable doubt that the Obama campaign can "Fat Jap" it's way to re-election. Which is the obvious goal.

Here's a way to illustrate the Obama strategy, using none other than Bond.

James Bond.

In 1973 the eighth James Bond picture Live and Let Die was released, the first in which Roger Moore rather than Sean Connery played Bond. There is a scene shot at the bad guy's "farm" -- and this being Louisiana it had alligators. Bond has been stranded by the bad guys on a rock in the middle of a pond, with alligators in the water all around him. The goal for Bond, obviously, is to get to shore. But the alligators, sensing fresh meat, are starting to head for the rock.

Yowzer! What to do?

Here's the clip -- with a stunt man dressed as Moore trying the stunt five different times, plus the finished version that makes it look like Roger Moore did it. Bond, as you can see, waits until several alligators are lined up in parallel fashion to the shore…like steps. In a blink, he makes a run for it, stepping quickly on and off the backs of the alligators as if they were stairs…making to the safety of the shore, and hence his escape.

Each alligator is in turn momentarily mad as hell, head abruptly out of the water, jaws snapping…but by the time they figure out what happened…Bond is on to the back of the next alligator.

Stepping on alligators is in essence how the Obama campaign views its use of the game of "Fat Jap Syndrome." Think of those alligators as so many "Fat Jap" controversies. Fat Jap Alligator Number One is Bain Capital. Fat Jap Alligator Number Two is Romney's Dog. Fat Jap Alligator Number Three is Romney's wife. Fat Jap Alligator Number Four is Romney's taxes. And so on -- an endless series of Fat Japping controversies endlessly through the entire campaign -- to the safety of re-election in November. 

Why?

Because Obama and company have no intention of discussing Obama's record -- staying on the rock in the pond. 

Why? 

Because, politically speaking, they simply can't survive if they do. If they stick with a discussion of the Obama record -- a decidedly non-Fat Jap issue -- they will be politically eaten alive.

So -- Obama's campaign and their media allies will try and "Fat Jap" the entire campaign. Running as fast as they can, stepping on the backs of the Fat Jap alligators -- all in an effort to make it to the shore that is re-election. It momentarily riles the alligator underfoot -- but if you can keep stepping on the back of the next alligator while the last is still trying to figure out what the hell just happened -- you can make good your escape.

Re-election.

Mitt Romney understands this. And he refuses to play. He's right.

But there's more to it than this.

Team Romney is right to call attention to the game. They should refuse to play Fat Jap Syndrome. Why? Not unlike the nerve hit over the years when candidates from Spiro Agnew (who began the call'em-out strategy with his famous 1970 Des Moines speech attacking the media as "a tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men, elected by no one, and enjoying a monopoly sanctioned and licensed by government"), to Ross Perot and more recently, Newt Gingrich, there are millions of Americans who have an extremely negative image of the liberal media. They will recognize Fat Jap Syndrome when they see it -- not to mention when Romney surrogates call their attention to the game.

But there is always constant need to remind that the reason Obama's campaign is playing the game of Fat Jap Syndrome in the first place is Obama's record. Both on the economy and with other issues such as Obamacare, Fast and Furious, the Stimulus, and so on.

Governor Sununu is turning out to be outstanding on this score -- he should pound away relentlessly at this, as should other Romney surrogates.

The disturbing thing is that there are some conservatives who are all too willing to give a pass to the latest round of the game that is "Fat Jap Syndrome." Worse -- some are playing this latest round themselves.

George Will says: "The cost of not releasing the (tax) returns are clear. Therefore, he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them."

What Romney has correctly calculated, in fact, is that Obama and his media allies are trying to play "Fat Jap" with him. For whatever reason, George Will is playing too.

Our friend Bill Kristol plays the "Fat Jap" game as well, when he insists Romney should release the returns "tomorrow."

Our friends at National Review play "Fat Jap" when they say: "If he releases more returns, Romney will be in a better position to resist the inevitable demands for even more disclosures."

Respectfully, wrong. Totally wrong. If Romney starts to play "Fat Jap" with his taxes -- the topic will quickly change -- to the next "Fat Jap."

And so on, endlessly, with Barack Obama stepping on the backs of Fat Jap alligators all the way to November.

This 2012 campaign is in fact a deadly serious war over the future of America itself.

President Obama -- based on his own biography as written in Dreams From My Father, based on his relationships with one serious leftist after another from the Communist Frank Marshall Davis to the Weatherman bomber Bill Ayers to the socialist black liberation theologian the Reverend Jeremiah Wright to self-professed Communist/Obama White House staffer Van Jones -- is a man of the Far Left.

The problem for Obama is that well into the last year of a term in which he has socialized health care while plunging the nation into trillions of debt -- Barack Obama has an actual presidential record.

And the American people are now seeing that leftist record -- finally understanding the leftist background that produced it -- for the alarming failure it had to be.

Which means the only option Obama has for political survival is playing one endless round after round of Fat Jap Syndrome.

A political game.

Mitt Romney is right not to play it.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.