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Tom Paine Would Not Have Approved of Mitt Romney

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This article cross-posted from The Nation

Readers of Tom Paine's The American Crisis will have a hard time finding the line referenced by Mitt Romney in his Florida victory speech: "Lead, follow, or get out of the way."

A very hard time.

I've lectured on Paine at major universities, keynoted Paine commemorations across the country and written books that review and analyze his writings, and I never came across Romney's quote in my examinations of the pamphleteer's essays or letters. But, just to be sure, I contacted my friend Harvey Kaye, the great biographer of Paine, and asked him whether he was familiar with Romney's "lead, follow..." line. Kaye's response: "I never read anything by Paine that sounded like that -- doesn't even sound like him."

The same responses came from other Paine scholars and enthusiasts.

No surprise there. Anyone familiar with Paine's canon knows that the greatest of the founding fathers did not peddle empty platitudes of this sort.

But there was Romney mis-attributing the line to Paine, as part of his primary night attack on President Obama.

"In another era of American crisis, Thomas Paine is reported to have said, "lead, follow, or get out of the way,'" chirped the Bain Capitalist. "Mr. President, you were elected to lead. You chose to follow, and now, it's time for you to get out of the way."

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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