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Mitt at arms 

When President Obama suggested that Mitt Romney as president mightn't have ordered the removal of Osama bin Laden, Romney replied testily that he would too. Why, even Jimmy Carter would have given that order, he sneered.

Some thought it odd that Mitt Romney would mock Jimmy Carter's courage and patriotism. Romney purposefully dodged service in his country's armed forces, focusing instead on his college studies, missionary work, and probably the occasional fraternity party. Carter attended the United States Naval Academy, accepted an officer's commission on graduation, went down to the sea in submarines, and served six years on active duty. Who is entitled to patronize whom?

But now we learned that Romney has his own tale of valor — leaked to the press by Republican agents, no doubt — though his occurred not at sea but on the campus of one of those chichi prep schools that rich kids attend.

Witnesses have confirmed that Romney in 1965 led a prep-school posse in pursuit of one of their classmates, who was known to wear bleached-blond hair draped over one eye, and was suspected of homosexuality. The vigilantes tackled the offender and held him to the ground while a wrathful Romney cut off his hair with scissors. One of the gang encountered the victim years later, and apologized for his part in the assault. The victim said the incident was "horrible," that he'd been unable to put it out of his mind.

The Republican Party used to offer war heroes as candidates — Grant, Eisenhower et al — and now it makes fun of them, as the Benton County divine and political operative Ronnie Floyd did with John Kerry, when that decorated Vietnam veteran was running for president. The ideal for today's Republicans is the chicken hawk, the politician who talks a bold game, but carefully avoids combat. Here are the Dick Cheneys, the Newt Gingriches, the Rush Limbaughs. Long committed to the view that only little people pay taxes, today's Republican leaders now believe that only little people wear their country's uniform too. "I will not apologize for being successful," Romney has said, and he's been highly successful in avoiding war zones.

To his credit, he's no longer so quick to use scissors on offending haircuts. When an openly gay campaign staff member resigned because of attacks from anti-gay critics, Romney did not join in the attacks, nor did he disassociate himself from kind remarks about the departing staffer that were made by other campaigners. A newish Romney, perhaps, though not new enough.

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