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McGrath: Same game: Try to pin an issue on Romney

Updated: November 25, 2012 11:34AM



The award-winning classic movie “Guide for the Married Man,” starring Walter Matthau and Inger Stevens, essentially was an instructional film on how to cheat on your wife.

It was also funny, clever and fairly risqué for 1967, presaging the contemporary AMC series “Mad Men” as it mirrored the shallow, sex-obsessed and chauvinistic male culture of the era.

Gap-toothed actor Robert Morse played an attorney who advised his pal Matthau, an investment counselor, on how to have his cake and eat it, too, by conducting extramarital affairs while preserving his marriage.

Morse’s “lessons” spanned the spectrum from how to find the safest hideaways in obscure restaurants or lounges to the daily use of aftershave lotion strong enough to cover up any mistress’ perfume and allay wifely suspicion. One of Morse’s most emphatic lessons was that if Matthau was ever accused of, or, heaven forbid, caught philandering, he must, “Deny, deny, deny!”

This particular lesson is dramatized in a flashback involving another Morse protégé, played by Joey Bishop, who is caught red-handed by his wife as he lies in bed with an unidentified, unclothed woman.

Their exchange went something like this:

“Charlie, how dare you!” says the wife.

“What?” Bishop says. He and the mistress roll out of bed and dress.

“What is she doing here?”

“Who?” Bishop says. The mistress grabs her shoes and leaves the house.

“Her.”

“Where?”

“In our bed.”

“Who?

“That woman!”

“What woman?”

You get the picture. After another round of Abbot and Costello-style interrogation, Bishop sits down in his easy chair and reads the paper. His wife walks back to the bedroom, examining the now-made bed with confusion and uncertainty and finally gives up.

Charlie’s insouciant denials have worn her down, so it’s physically easier to succumb to her doubts and believe the lie.

“What do you want for dinner, Charlie?” she asks.

Though the film is nearly 50 years old, I thought of it while watching Mitt Romney reverse positions in the closing weeks of the election. As unflappable as Bishop’s character, Romney denies ever holding his previous positions on a raft of issues.

For example, he was asked by the Des Moines Register, how as president, he would implement his anti-abortion proclamations made during the primary elections. He told the reporter there was no abortion legislation that would become part of his presidential agenda.

How about his tough, barbed-wire stance on immigration, as articulated in the primary election debates? What do you mean? Suddenly, Romney agrees with Obama: “I’m not in favor of rounding up people.”

And his earlier vow to repeal Obamacare, including the parts Americans really like? What? Not so! He plans to keep the very best features of Obamacare.

But didn’t Romney say he’d get rid of it, including its provision for parents to keep children under 26 on their insurance? Well, no, under his new plan, parents still can keep adult children covered.

But if he scraps the Democrats’ health care law, where will that leave Americans who have pre-existing medical conditions? What? Again, his plan will cover patients with pre-existing conditions.

What about Romney’s opposition to health care institutions’ funding of contraceptives? What opposition? “Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives.”

Then why has he made countless speeches over the last six months in which he promised Tea Party members that killing Obamacare was his No. 1 priority? Apparently what voters thought they heard was not what he meant.

And then there’s Romney’s pledge that a top priority would be repealing the Dodd-Frank legislation that imposed reforms to deter Wall Street excesses. Why? The new tune is that we need some regulations to keep the economy sound.

There are more examples, but you get the idea. Deny long enough and often enough, and pretty soon it becomes your personal truth.

It worked for Joey Bishop’s character, but that was just a movie comedy, right?

Mitt Romney wants badly to be president. And to his way of thinking, he will do whatever it takes.

David McGrath, a former resident of Evergreen Park and Oak Forest, is an emeritus professor of English at the College of DuPage.



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