Romney battles the "Fat Jap Syndrome."
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: "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.