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Scot Lehigh

Romney's faux pas

MITT ROMNEY owes Barack Obama an apology. It's as simple as that.

And if you don't believe me, why, just ask our last governor.

Let me explain.

Perhaps you've followed the latest campaign kerfuffle, which began Tuesday when Romney was discussing the new call to jihad from terrorist Osama bin Laden.

"Just look at what Osam - Barack Obama - said just yesterday. Barack Obama, calling on radicals, jihadists of all the different types, to come together in Iraq," Romney said.

A simple slip of the tongue, his campaign insists. And who knows? In normal circumstances, one would be inclined to agree. It is, after all, relatively easy to say Osama when you mean Obama.

As Romney spokesman Kevin Madden is quick to note, Ted Kennedy has confused the names as well. Here's what our something-less-than-silver-tongued senior senator said in 2005 when asked a question about Obama's successful campaign for the US Senate.

"Why don't we just ask Osama bin - Osama Obama - Obama what - since he won by such a big amount?"

Of course, that's quite a bit different from the hyper-articulate Romney starting to say Osama, then stopping and substituting "Barack Obama" - and then using the Illinois senator's name again.

Still, intentionally trying to tarnish the Democratic presidential candidate that way would be such hopelessly pinheaded politics as to almost defy belief.

Then again, this is a campaign that has contemplated bumper stickers saying, "First, not France."

And it's an organization that has signed on bad boy adman Alex Castellanos, who in 2000 produced an anti-Gore spot for the Republican National Committee that flashed the word "rats" on the screen for a fraction of a second of suspected subliminal slime-slinging.

But even if, as Madden insists, Romney's faux pas was nothing more than an innocent case of a candidate misspeaking, Mitt still needs to make amends to Obama and his supporters.

Why? Because he himself has declared that an apology is the only acceptable recourse when a political tongue has stumbled off its intended track in this fashion.

It was just about a year ago when Senator John Kerry, then planning a second campaign for the White House, made the ill-fated jest that effectively ended his comeback. Speaking at a California college, Kerry delivered a joke that was meant to mock an intellectually incurious president. In written form, it warned students that if you don't study and are intellectually lazy, "You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush."

Unfortunately for Kerry, the punch line about those who didn't do well tumbled off his tongue this way: "If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

One would have to be an awful dope to honestly believe that a man intent on another a national campaign would purposefully set out to insult our troops in Iraq.

And yet, Romney pounced.

"When I saw his comment, I was just astounded," he said. "What he said was offensive."

Nor did the then-governor have any truck with Kerry's explanation.

"I'm sorry," he said. "The quote is extraordinarily direct. It is very, very, very direct."

Well, so is this: "Barack Obama, calling on radicals, jihadists of all the different types, to come together in Iraq."

Romney's Obama remark, Madden insisted, "wasn't intended to be harmful."

Perhaps not. But by Romney's own 2006 standard, intent simply doesn't count in matters like these. Here's what Romney said: "He [Kerry] may not have meant to say that. But that is what he said."

Mitt Manners was clear on the course Kerry had to pursue: "He of course should apologize for what he said."

(Kerry soon did.)

Now, Romney is many things, but a fool isn't one of them, which is why one couldn't help but suspect he was affecting his indignation to make the most of Kerry's verbal klutziness. No mystery why: Having another Massachusetts politician in the national mix would have complicated Romney's own planned run for president.

But that's also why it's not enough for Madden now to declare that he doesn't think Mitt's miscue rises to the level of needing an apology. Last year, Romney himself insisted that such incidents require one.

So Romney has made his own rules. If he fails to abide by them, what conclusion can we draw?

Just this: The home-state candidate is one humongous hypocrite.

Scot Lehigh's e-mail address is lehigh@globe.com.

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