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The Boston Globe

Special Reports

The lessons of the father

There, you said it. There’s no taking it back. Maybe the regret formed in your mind even before the last syllable of the Godforsaken comment had left your lips. Maybe you thought nothing of it until 12 hours later, when a voice woke you out of your REM rebound, demanding to know, “What in the hell were you thinking?” Either way, it was too late. We’ve all said something at some point in our lives that we desperately wanted to take back. In 1976, I was a precocious second-grader listening to my mother explain that she was going to a baby shower for a friend. “Wouldn’t it be funny,” I asked her, delighted to show off my knowledge of a new word I had picked up, “if she had a miscarriage and she had to give back all those baby gifts?” Not funny. All these years later, and I can still recall the look of sadness and disgust frozen on my mother’s face. I’m sure she has long since forgotten that comment, but I haven’t.

On August 31, 1967, George Romney, the voluble, vigorous three-term governor of Michigan and former automotive executive, walked into a Detroit TV station to be interviewed by a local broadcaster with a lousy hairpiece. For more than a year, Romney had been talked about as the Republicans’ best chance for winning the White House in 1968. But the national campaign trail, at first welcoming, had become bumpy. Reporters pressed Romney repeatedly to explain his ever-evolving and often confusing position on military involvement in Vietnam, which he had strongly supported after a visit to South Vietnam in 1965 but later declared a tragic mistake. Polls showed his lead fading.

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