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Adrian Walker

Revising Mitt Romney’s career at Bain

We were warned that Mitt Romney is a man of Etch A Sketch moments. This turns out to be true, and not in a playful way.

How else to explain how someone can be the president, CEO, and sole shareholder of a company, yet have no involvement in it?

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You may recall that his spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, described the post-primary period as one in which Romney could transform his severely conservative image into something new, just like those toys that erased when you shook them.

As far as we know, Fehrnstrom wasn’t even thinking of the erasure Romney is attempting now, as he tries to convince the world that he didn’t work or wield any influence at a company, Bain Capital, that was reporting to the government that he was its president and CEO.

A Globe report last week showed that Bain listed Romney as an executive for three years after he said he gave up any active role in the company. He has maintained for years that he departed in 1999, to save America’s honor by turning around the 2002 Winter Olympics. But he kept taking a salary and being listed in official documents as holding critical-sounding jobs.

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Romney reacted with righteous outrage, a response to criticism that was familiar to people who have followed him over the years. He went on five talk shows on Friday, demanding an apology from President Obama and claiming that allowing staffers to blast him was demeaning the highest office in the land. Romney never clearly explained what was inaccurate about the stories, or the documents they were based on.

On Sunday, the picture became even murkier, with Romney surrogates claiming on the morning shows that he had retired from the private equity company “retroactively” — whatever that means.

Even some Republicans — who were clearly as confused as their Democratic counterparts — were calling on Romney to release his tax returns for the years in question, in the hope that they might clear up the mystery of just when he stopped running Bain Capital.

This all matters, in part, because Romney has repeatedly disavowed any involvement in Bain’s activities during those years. The Obama campaign asserts that Romney is attempting to distance himself from layoffs and other activities that might make voters think twice.

But it also matters because of Romney’s history of revision. Remember the residency fight during his run for governor in 2002? His Massachusetts residency was challenged by Democrats who charged he had moved to Utah to run the Olympics. Romney prevailed, insisting that he had never changed his residency, even if he spent the better part of two years living in another state.

The fight over Romney’s Bain history plays into the perception that things with Mitt are never quite what they seem. He has been for and against abortion and stem-cell research. He has been a moderate and a conservative. He insists that he has never raised taxes, but his signature health care overhaul in Massachusetts imposes a tax on people who don’t buy insurance. He’s against health care reform now, too, of course.

As for Bain, not only did he continue to hold major titles after 1999, but he reported a salary of “over $100,000” for 2001 and 2002 on state ethics forms. It was not known how much more than $100,000 — but the report only underscores the difference between Romney and most Americans, who actually work at the jobs they hold. Most of us can’t fathom making six figures (or possibly more) for doing nothing, which is essentially what Romney now claims to have done.

Many observers, on both sides of the aisle, believe that Romney’s greatest vulnerability as a candidate is that voters just can’t figure out what to make of this man whose life has never resembled most of ours. To call his existence charmed is an understatement.

No wonder Obama isn’t rushing to apologize.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.
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