OVER THE PAST WEEK, as Rick Santorum finally ended his quixotic quest for the GOP nomination, the country officially entered general-election season.

Mitt Romney commenced the battle last week by engaging in a disingenuous media war over President Obama's political disposition toward women.

The war of words began when Romney sidestepped a question about the plight of women in the current economy, suggesting that his wife, Ann, had more insight on the topic than he did.

Of course, this was an awful political move. As the self-appointed economic savior of our nation, Romney should be prepared to discuss the economic condition of half the country's population. Also, given his 13 percent disadvantage from Obama among female voters in polls, Romney should have had a much more compelling platform for women.

But Romney also opened the door to an obvious, if unpopular, truth: His wife doesn't know what it's like to work a 9-to-5 job. This was articulated by Democratic pundit Hilary Rosen, who was pounded by the press for allegedly beating up on Ann Romney for being a stay-at-home mom. The Romney campaign then used the opportunity to slay the Democrats, and by extension Obama, for dismissing the legitimacy of domestic labor.

Of course, the truth is that Rosen wasn't dissing Ann Romney's work ethic, nor was she saying that stay-at-home mothers aren't doing real work. Rather, she was pointing out that Ann, like her husband, Mitt, has no connection to everyday workers because of the couple's extraordinary wealth.

In this case, even Ann Romney's "stay-at-home-mom status" is questionable, since it's likely that she had the help of domestic support staff that is unavailable to 99 percent of the American public.

But this isn't about the Romneys' personal life. It's about Romney's outrageous dishonesty.

Once Rosen made her comments, Romney issued a string of melodramatic statements about the value of stay-at-home motherhood, going so far as to say that "all moms are working moms." While this makes for great sound bites and even better bumper stickers, it contradicts everything that Romney has said and done over the past decade.

Over his two terms as governor of Massachusetts, as well as his past six years of campaigning for president, Romney has done nothing to protect women's reproductive rights, promote economic equality or enable educational access.

Romney still refuses to offer support for the Ledbetter Act, which makes it easier for women to pursue equal pay for equal work.

Just three weeks ago, he defended his support for welfare-to- work programs in Massachusetts. His reason? Low-income moms, even those with children as young as 2 years old, need to "learn the dignity of work."

How do we explain this glaring contradiction? One answer is that Romney is a political hypocrite who will say anything to get elected. The other is that Romney sees dignity and value only in the work of people who aren't poor.

I suspect that both answers are true.

Women face real issues that need to be addressed. Although Obama has been far from perfect in this area, Romney has a long and troubling record that would make his recent comments laughable if the consequences weren't so scary.

In fact, the only hope that we draw from a potential Romney candidacy is that there's little correlation between what he says, what he believes and what he does. That's hardly the stuff of a president.

Daily News editor-at-large Marc Lamont Hill is an associate professor of education at Columbia University and host of "Our World With Black Enterprise," which airs at 6 a.m. Sundays on TV-One. Contact him at MLH@marclamonthill.com.