Mitt Romney’s Memory Hole

Mitt Romney frequently employs the "I don't remember but I won't deny it" defense.

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Editorial Cartoon

It's funny what Mitt Romney can and cannot remember (or maybe that should be can and cannot "remember"), be it about bullying in high school, or cold, harsh behavior toward congregants in his church.

The New York Times's Timothy Egan posted a piece last night detailing some of Mitt's memory problems and putting into context why what he may have done in high school continues to dog him. Egan writes:

But to hold the 65-year-old presumptive Republican nominee for president accountable for what he may have done as a mean-spirited teenager is unfair. Because he acted like a bully then no more makes Romney a bully now than does that fact that young Barack Obama tried "maybe a little blow" make him a coke-head.

More troubling is Romney's continued inability to honestly face up to his own life story and those inconvenient truths that interfere with the ideas of the vocal right-wing of the party whose standard he will soon bear

Romney, Egan argues, has a tendency to make biographical problems worse by fumbling, bumbling, and stumbling when trying to defend or explain them. So, as Egan points out, he claims to have forgotten the now much-discussed incident where he brutalized a long-haired classmate in high school—a claim that seems to be believed by precisely no one outside the Romney camp. And why not? This isn't the first time he's employed the "I don't remember but I won't deny it" defense.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney.]

My former Boston Globe colleagues Michael Kranish and Scott Helman recount another troubling story in their biography, The Real Romney (as excerpted in Vanity Fair) of an unnamed parishioner who was pregnant and discovered that she had a life threatening pelvic blood clot:

… the doctors, she said, ultimately told her that, with some risk to her life, she might be able to deliver a full-term baby, whose chance of survival they put at 50 percent. One day in the hospital, her bishop—later identified as Romney, though she did not name him in the piece—paid her a visit. He told her about his nephew who had Down syndrome and what a blessing it had turned out to be for their family. "As your bishop," she said he told her, "my concern is with the child." The woman wrote, "Here I—a baptized, endowed, dedicated worker, and tithe-payer in the church—lay helpless, hurt, and frightened, trying to maintain my psychological equilibrium, and his concern was for the eight-week possibility in my uterus—not for me!"

Romney would later contend that he couldn't recall the incident, saying, "I don't have any memory of what she is referring to, although I certainly can't say it could not have been me.

[ Read a U.S. News interview with Scott Helman about The Real Romney.]

Of course it's always possible that he really doesn't remember any of this stuff. Kind of like during a GOP presidential debate last November when he had trouble remembering his first name. CNN host Wolf Blitzer opened the debate by noting that his first name really is "Wolf." Romney followed up: "I'm Mitt Romney, and yes, Wolf, that's also my first name." But of course his first name is Willard, not Mitt (nor, as 2 percent of those surveyed in one poll thought, Mittens).

Or maybe he has a willingness (if not, apparently, an ability) to say whatever he needs to get elected.