It wasn't the first time Romney has abused a parental memory. Running for Senate in Massachusetts, in 1994, and trying to establish pro-choice credibility that he had done nothing to earn, Romney told stories about his mother, Lenore Romney, running on a strong pro-choice platform in her own unsuccessful bid for public office in 1970. Those tales were debunked by Boston Globe columnist Eileen McNamara.
Then, as now, Romney tried to buttress his statement with weak documentation at odds with the precision of the claim: in that case, Romney provided the Globe with a vaguely-worded campaign document that could be read as supporting the pre-Roe v Wade status quo, in which abortion was a felony in Michigan. ''I support and recognize the need for more liberal abortion rights while reaffirming the legal and medical measures needed to protect the unborn and pregnant woman [sic]," the document read.
Again, at that time, Romney did not just pass along falsehood as fact. He sold it as personal truth, speaking of the painful memories of a close relative's death, from complications of an illegal abortion.
Romney was telling that tale, of course, when it was politically expedient to be pro-choice. Today, needing to be pro-life, he has a new, highly personal and emotional tale of personal conversion after a doctor showed him how stem cells are handled in research — another specific but uncorroborated story, about which even the doctor involved has expressed skepticism.
Romney once favored gun control; now, needing gun-rights voters, he has falsely claimed to be a "lifelong hunter" and to have been endorsed in 2002 by the National Rifle Association – an endorsement the NRA never gave him. Needing to establish anti-illegal-immigrant credentials, he boasts of an attitude that he never displayed while governor — when he expressed no concern over several "sanctuary cities" in the state — until the very end of his term, when he had turned his attention to the Republican Presidential nomination.
This week, he finds the need to attack Mike Huckabee on crime, and so Romney has re-invented his record there, falsely claiming, in a new ad, to have cracked down on methamphetamine.
It is not just that these are untruths. They are the actions of a man desperate to cater to the whims of his audience. What they want, he must appear to be.
This is the opposite of leadership — the opposite of the actions taken by his father in the 1960s.
It should be recalled that the infamous "brainwashed" comment that sunk George Romney's 1968 Presidential candidate, cost him not merely because of the choice of words, but for the idea he was expressing: that what the generals were telling America about how the war was going in Vietnam was untrue.
That was heresy among pro-war Republicans, who quickly turned on Romney.
Today, Mitt Romney is attacking Huckabee for daring to criticize George W. Bush's conduct of the Iraq War, in a recent Foreign Affairs article. Romney, of course, has refused to speak ill of Bush — that would hurt him among the Republicans he is courting. His father, one suspects, would be disappointed.