I was hoping for a post on some language blog where a person knowledgeable about lexical semantics would deal with this. But I just don't see much chance that Romney's claim is true. Most importantly, I don't see anything quite like this kind of meaning in the dictionaries I've checked that would fit this context. Merriam-Webster's doesn't get much closer than "to form a mental picture of" or "visualize", as in "I can still see her as she was years ago" (paraphrase of their example).
Did Mitt Romney 'see' his father march with Martin Luther King?
… The American media pounced on the statement and quickly discovered that Mr Romney had been in high school at the time, more than 30 miles away from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, where the 1963 civil rights march he was referring to took place. … Mr Romney said he was an "English literature major" and he had used the verb "saw" in a figurative sense.
He told reporters: "If you look at the literature, if you look at the dictionary, the term 'saw' includes being aware of in the sense I've described. "It's a figure of speech and very familiar and it's very common. And I saw my dad march with Martin Luther King.
"I did not see it with my own eyes, but I saw him in the sense of being aware of his participation in that great effort."
OED gives some hilarious options for reading this:
d. To behold (visual objects) in imagination, or in a dream or vision. So to see a vision, to see a dream. Also in phr. to see things, to suffer hallucinations or false imaginings; (usu. colloq. as pres. pple.).OK, that's not what he meant, I imagine. But the figurative uses of to see seem not to refer to specific events but things more like the opening line of Allen Ginsberg's Howl:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, …It seems impossible to come up with a scenario for figure see where you are talking about a specific event where you could have been but weren't, unless it's about learning it by reading the paper or something. Yeah, to see has lots of figurative uses, and those include something like 'to be or become aware of'. But not like this. Am I missing something or is this another screaming lie by a pol? It's a question for the historians whether his father actually did march with King.
Update, Dec. 22, 3:00 pm: Well, I'll be danged: People have come forward insisting that Romney (père, not fils) did march with King. That takes some of the sting out of this.
Image from here.