--Mitt Romney, campaigning in South Carolina on Monday
In answer to the question posed in the headline, I don't know. No one does right now, except Mitt Romney and those in his inner circle.
But here are some relevant things we do know:
- Romney, as a member of the far right-wing of his party (aside from Ron Paul, is any Republican presidential candidate not these days?), will surely employ Rovian tactics honed over the last seven years. Feigning confusion to equate a Democratic presidential candidate with the most high-profile terrorist on earth - praying on people's fears, ignorance and bigotry - is right out of Rove's old playbook.
- The strategy of linking Obama to Osama is a longtime talking point of right-wing mouthpiece Rush Limbaugh.
- Romney has embraced, and has been embraced by, Ann Coulter, who, apart from a laundry list of inane, vile and irresponsible remarks (which includes joking around - ha-ha - about poisoning an insufficiently extreme Supreme Court justice to remove him from the bench) commonly likens liberals and Democratic candidates to terrorists, or portrays them as traitors if they don't fall in lock step behind the neocons' culture of death, deception and disenfranchisement.
- In a campaign swing through South Carolina this past July, Romney was photographed with a supporter holding a sign that read "No to Obama Osama and Chelsea's Moma [sic]." In a separate photo, Romney himself is holding this sign. At the time, Romney campaign spokesman Kevin Madden said it was merely "an alliterative play on words," adding, "I don't think it was equating or comparing anyone."
It's also worth examining the precise construction of his alleged blunder on Monday: "Actually, just look at what Osam -- Barack Obama -- said just yesterday. Barack Obama, calling on radicals, jihadists of all different types, to come together in Iraq." It's certainly a curious order in which this "confusion" occurs. Had Romney begun by saying, "Just look at what Obam -- Osama bin Laden said just yesterday," it would be somewhat more believable it was said in error. But the order is extremely awkward, demanding a rather difficult verbal contortion: Romney utters the first two syllables of Osama's first name, then verbally pivots to deliver the Illinois senator's full name, which starts not with the similar sounding "Obama" but rather with "Barack." There's absolutely nothing natural about this transition: "Osam -- Barack..."
Rather, it sounds like Romney may have intended to slip Obama's name in there, a premeditated talking point, but muffed it. Thus, "Osam -- Barack" instead of, say, "Osam -- Obama" or "Obam -- Osama." What's worse, even more of a stretch of imagination, is that Romney, ostensibly failing to grasp his first mistake, then repeats "Barack Obama" instead of Osama bin Laden in his following sentence.
All the same, can I conclude Romney's remarks were definitely deliberate? No. But, given the necessary context, it would be illogical, naive or intellectually dishonest not to consider the very real possibility.
Yet that's exactly what the mainstream press does. Romney gets a free pass. The incident, wholly devoid of context (no mention even of that Obama-Osama sign incident back in July), is recounted unquestioningly as an honest mistake.
The Associated Press (in a story printed in the Washington Post) calls it a "mix-up" and "a slip of the tongue." In fact, the AP used the word fed to it by Romney campaign spokesman Kevin Madden, who said, "He misspoke. He was referring to the audiotape of Osama bin Laden and misspoke. It was just a mix-up." The New York Times, via The Caucus blog, referred to it as a "gaffe," hypothesized that "Mitt Romney might have still been a bit bleary-eyed this morning when he twice confused Senator Barack Obama with Osama bin Laden when referring to the latter’s new recorded message," and even offered a cheeky "Oops" to further frame the proceedings.
In other words, the mainstream press reports this as if Romney's tactics, his record, his allies, his attack dogs and the game plan of the Republican Party - in this case, pertaining to Barack Obama - have no possible bearing whatsoever. So little, in fact, this angle of the story is ignored outright.
Meanwhile, the bottom line is, Romney either meant to link Obama with Osama, or he was incredibly - almost unfathomably - sloppy to have so mangled his speech.
That's a far cry from "Oops."