The truth is Mitt Romney’s kryptonite

I’m not a competely honest person.

In my day-to-day life, I exaggerate, I employ sarcasm liberally, I distort and embellish facts to aggrandize my account of past events when relating them to friends. On occasion, I lie. I do it to soften the truth, or to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Though I’m not proud of it, there have even been times when I lied to enhance my own prospects, or to avoid retribution.

Lying is a human behaviour, one which we all exhibit, from the poorest to the wealthiest among us, and members of all races and creeds. From the moment of our first introduction to language, until we rest on our deathbeds, the temptation to fictionalize, prevaricate and fib dogs us. And as human beings, we all succumb to it. Some more often than others.

But that said, those of us who are generally sincere, conscientious and well-intentioned, will do our best to speak the truth, and adhere consistently to our principles. This code of conduct applies especially in our work, and among the people we care about.

Then there’s presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, whose principles seem to flutter about like a weathervane in the throes of a tropical storm.

Presumptive 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, care of DonkeyHotey/Flickr

Make no mistake about it: Romney doesn’t merely change his mind (all the time, and on substantive questions); he lies. He does it frequently and indiscriminately, to the extent that it becomes risible. He lies over issues ranging broadly in importance, from fictitious recollections of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to deliberate misrepresentations of the words, policies and realities of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Of course, I fully expect the views of politicians to evolve over the course of their careers. Likewise, I would be naif indeed to fall victim to the illusion that officials and candidates for public office are always sincere, or even predominantly sincere, in their statements.

But I’m confident that I’ve seen none who quite measures up to the former Massachusetts governor. And in most cases, Romney’s duplicity appears directed toward no more noble cause than the advancement of his political station. But he’s gone way too far, and his falsehoods are raising serious doubts – as they should – about his fitness to lead his country.

The lies

They’re well documented, and almost too legion to list (not to mention that he seems to concoct new ones daily at the rate of a Chinese toy factory’s assembly line). But I’ll do my best to provide a decent roster of examples, which will hopefully demonstrate that this man’s mendacity is extreme, even by the standards of a politican.

  • At a debate among Republican nominees last October, Romney claimed he had “never hired illegal aliens”. A little more than two minutes later, without repudiating his prior statement, he avowed that he had, in fact, hired a landscaping company which employed undocumented foreign workers.
  • “I was a severely conservative Republican governor,” said Romney in a 2012 speech. I suppose this is open to interpretation (both whether it’s true and whether it’s the sort of thing you’d want to proclaim about yourself in this day and age – can you imagine how a campaign would founder if a candidate said “I’ve always been a ‘severely’ liberal Democrat.”?). But passing a universal healthcare law and allowing women the right to choose? Sounds an awful lot like the “radically liberal” president in Romney’s crosshairs. I’d wager that progressives and conservatives (like Mike Huckabee) alike would agree, the “severely conservative Republican” statement is clearly not true, even if you give Romney the benefit of every doubt.
  • Romney claimed, at a campaign rally in February 2012, that President Obama had “doubled” the federal deficit since taking office. In reality, the federal deficit doubled to $1.2 trillion before Obama took office, as a direct consequence of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. It now sits at $1.3 trillion. To be fair, in 2009 Obama did (very unwisely) promise to halve the deficit during his four-year term – but it’s possible even he did not realize the extent of the damage his country’s economy had sustained by that time. Not to mention his failure to anticipate the woes of Europe, a major U.S. market.
  • In Mitt’s world, Obama raised corporate tax rates. In the real world, Obama forwarded a proposal in February to slash the statutory corporate tax rate from 35% – where it sat when he assumed the presidency – to 28%. (By the way, I recommend you take in this video by Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks, who explains why the ‘35%’ figure is misleading. In reality, the U.S. already has a very low effective tax rate for corporations.)
  • As far as Willard is concerned, Obama did not cause the recession, but he “made it worse.” False. Obama’s modest stimulus package and the TARP, both of which Romney has alternately lauded and decried, saved millions of jobs and likely prevented an economic depression. A few minutes later, when challenged on this ludicrous statement by NBC reporter Sue Kroll, Romney claimed never to have said it.
  • Romney alleged, in his 2010 book No Apology, that Obama had “traveled the world apologizing for America.” Um, yeah, that never happened. Obama once apologized to Afghanistan for the actions of NATO military personnel posted there – in particular, an error which led to the inadvertent burning of Qurans. Was a public apology warranted in that situation? Sorry, Mitt Romney, but the answer is most assuredly YES. And I damn well hope every decent human being on this planet agrees.
  • Just a few weeks ago, the Obama administration opted to sue the State of Ohio over what it perceived as an infringement of voting rights: the state’s Republican administration decided to annul early voting rights for its electorate (for reasons that are unclear), but provided an exemption to members of the military. Democrats cried foul and filed a lawsuit, with the aim of maintaining early voting rights for all Ohioans. But dexterous dissimulator Romney cooked up the egregious fiction that Obama was somehow striving to deprive Ohio’s valiant servicemen and women of their democratic prerogatives – a statement so far from the truth it might as well be relegated to an alternate universe.

I’d love to keep going (and could all day and all night long; just recently Romney’s campaign concocted another whopper with respect to Obama’s policy on welfare reform), but I’ve got other matters to discuss. Like Romney’s numerous and wholesale position changes.

The flip-flops

He was pro-choice, and became pro-life. He was a vociferous advocate of gun control; now he’s a lifetime member of the NRA and staunch opponent of further regulation. He alternately rails against the federal bailout of the auto industry, and baselessly takes credit for the jobs that action succeeded in preserving. He refuses to release more than one tax return, despite justifiable allegations that he’s used offshore accounts and shell firms to shelter massive stores of capital. And, perhaps most worrisome of all, he touted a successful and popular universal healthcare plan as the signature achievement of his governorship. Now, he bloviates against Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – a national strategy built on virtually identical pillars to perform the same function, but one that also displays the same foibles – as a “job killer”, “bad law”, and “bad policy”, which he would act to repeal immediately upon entering the White House. And recriminations abound in Republican circles for anyone who stumbles over the inherent hypocrisy of this message – just ask Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.

I guess Republicans were hoping American voters had forgotten where the idea for Obamacare originated. Likewise, they must have been hoping the U.S. electorate, in an unprecedented display of collective amnesia, would overlook the fact that Romney, as recently as a 2009 interview with CBS, both prescribed the Massachusetts healthcare plan for the nation, and applauded Obama’s incorporation of its core principles into the architecture of the PPACA – better known by its derisive handle, Obamacare.

Although I don’t discount the possibility that Romney is the victim of a far-right reactionary bodysnatcher from a distant galaxy, I feel there may be a more plausible theory to explain – at least in part – Willard’s wily, waffling ways.

Lying for the Lord

Put it this way: if the connection between lying and Mormonism were represented as a relationship status on Facebook, the description would read “It’s complicated.”

The Mormon church, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as it’s formally known, was founded in the 1820s by a man named Joseph Smith Jr. Claiming to be a prophet of Christ, Smith constructed a belief system endearing to the American audience he sought to proselytize – complete with the fantasies that the Garden of Eden was located in an unspecified valley in Missouri, and that Jesus Christ would return to Clark County, also in Missouri, at some time in the distant future. All religious scholars in the Abrahamic tradition interpret the holy book of their faith differently, and Smith was no exception; the Bible became a guiding light for the religion he invented, supplemented by the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price, which together brought Mormonism its distinctive (and decidedly occult) cachet.

The Salt Lake Temple, an icon of the LDS Church, in Utah. Image c/o BFS Man/Flickr

But Mormonism’s faithful – and in particular, its missionaries – are highly selective with respect to the realities of their creed they choose to reveal to the public.

As this instructive article by devout Mormon and former LDS Church educator Ken Clark points out, lying and embellishment go hand-in-hand with not only selling the institution’s virtues to prospective converts, but also with preserving the good name of the Church’s luminaries.

“I gave myself permission to be slightly dishonest because I was defending God’s one true church; or so I reasoned,” writes Clark, who was not alone in experiencing this conundrum.

“Evidence presented in this essay establishes that when the church image or its leaders needed protection it was and is, okay to fib, deceive, distort, inflate, minimize, exaggerate, prevaricate or lie. You will read quotations by church leaders who admitted that deception is a useful tool to protect the church and its leaders ‘when they are in a tight spot,’ or ‘to beat the devil at his own game.’ They admit engaging in moral gymnastics; that God approves of deception – if it’s done to protect the ‘Lord’s Church’ or ‘the brethren’ as the leaders are called.”

Such ‘moral gymnastics’, as Clark calls them, are common practice among officials within the LDS Church, even encouraged as a means to promote individual and collective causes. It’s little wonder this is the case, given that Mormonism has been on the defensive since its inception: its adherents initially endorsed polygamy (which continues to this day in some Mormon sects), a practice which brought them nothing but ridicule and persecution. Furthermore, as recently as 1978, the LDS Church moved to amend one of its traditional tenets: the belief that black people are “cursed” and “inferior”.

Incidentally, the character of Smith, the 19th century ‘prophet’ who inaugurated the Church, required a fair bit of defending in its own right. New York court records show Smith was arrested and tried on various allegations – including theft and disorderly conduct. Some detractors have even accused Smith of being a ‘con man’, although the evidence to this effect is inconclusive.

However, it’s not a stretch to state that Smith, who passed away at the age of 38, was a Mormon leader who found himself ‘in a tight spot’ with alarming regularity. Thus began the tradition of prevarication, plausible deniability and obfuscation that Clark, and many others current and exited Mormons, describe.

Freedom of religion

Like any other American, Romney is constitutionally entitled to believe what he chooses to believe. And in U.S. politics, there’s an unwritten rule: don’t criticize another candidate’s religion.

But at what point is it legitimate to question the system of values to which a candidate for public office adheres – particularly when he has been intimately involved in spreading and reinforcing that belief system? (This BBC documentary, which includes a telling interview with Mitt’s cousin and exited Mormon Park Romney, poses precisely that question – exploring territory where no American television news outlet dares set foot.)

Romney’s relationship with Mormonism

Journalists, writers and historians aiming to bulwark the faith against the ‘liberal anti-Mormon slime machine’ will point out, correctly, that Mormons have served in the United States government for generations – among them both Mitt Romney and his father George.

Romney the younger has served as a bishop and president of Mormon congregations of various size. At the age of 30, Vanity Fair reports, he was deemed to possess leadership qualities beyond his years – probably a fair assessment given the extent to which he idolized his father, and in light of the various political and business roles that would follow. He is, by all accounts, an extraordinarily intelligent man possessed of an indefatigable work ethic, and a steadfast adherent to the Mormon faith’s non-negotiable ‘family-first’ patriarchy. He is also a career salesman, but not necessarily of the commercial variety.

Mitt Romney was a youngster when his country became embroiled in one of the most shameful, lugubrious conflagrations in human history – the Vietnam War. At the time, the U.S. government instituted a military draft, for which Romney would have been eligible based on his age. But he obtained a total of four deferments – two for his university studies and another pair for an extended stay in France, during which Romney purportedly served as a ‘religious minister’. (Not surprisingly, he has lied repeatedly about his feelings on the Vietnam War depending on the composition of his audience.)

While performing this role, Romney was charged with one single, paramount task: travel from door to door and proselytize as many as possible to the Mormon faith.

As I alluded to earlier, for Mormon missionaries, selling people on something they can believe in is the foremost priority. Telling the truth is, at best, a distant second. To build a strong rapport with the uninitiated, Mormon tradition encourages missionaries to share the bright, shiny aspects of the LDS Church, while deliberately misrepresenting certain of its tenets, beliefs, and leaders, making every effort to conceal the warts. To achieve all that requires a bit of, well, mythologizing.

Now, ask yourself if any aspect of that pattern of behaviour sounds familiar…

Mitt Romney is doing his damnedest to sell Americans on a Romney presidency, just like a door-to-door missionary. The difference is, in the case of Mormonism, prospective converts can do their homework, and glean some comprehension of the product instead of jumping headlong into an impetuous purchase. On the other hand, the possibilities inherent in a Romney administration, along with the ideology that would inform his policies, remain a mystery, even to the most gifted prognosticators.

As for the others…

When it comes to most of the 2012 presidential candidates, on the other hand, voters (generally speaking) know what to expect:

Barack Obama: a moderate economic policy combined with an authoritarian leadership style, including the maintenance of nefarious programs like TrapWire, and laws like H.R. 347, which limit the right of Americans to civil disobedience (by the way, both of these measures are unconstitutional). Continued and increased illegal drone strikes on foreign soil, which afford the advantage of endangering no American soldiers, but the substantial drawback of murdering civilians, and inspiring more anti-American fervour in countries like Yemen, Iran and Pakistan (leading to an outcome that is effectively deleterious to U.S. national security and almost entirely counterproductive). Continued use of the Guantanamo detention facility despite his campaign promise to shut it down, and use of torture (which, incidentally, detainees are not permitted to discuss with their legal counsel due to its ‘classified’ nature).

By the way, if you believe a Republican administration would right any of these wrongs, you’re deluding yourself. Republicans have been conspicuously silent on issues like the drone program and erosion of civil liberties under Obama over the last four years, with the exception of Ron Paul.

Obama favours a woman’s legal right to choose and has ostensibly endorsed same-sex marriage. He will keep Obamacare, along with the expenses, problems and benefits inherent therein.

Virgil Goode: Let’s not go there. He’s insane. There, I said it.

Jill Stein: The Green party platform includes a “Green New Deal” complete with Keyenesian stimulus and heavy government investment in environmentally sustainable technology. Stein, whose social philosophy is much more libertarian than Obama’s, has also pledged to put an end to corporate cronyism (the Green party campaign does not accept corporate donations) and bank bailouts on taxpayers’ dime, restore civil liberties, slash military spending and end the drone strikes, help students deal with crippling debt and implement tuition-free higher education, and provide accessible single-payer healthcare to all Americans (all of which ambitions are quixotic, and would face certain pushback from the establishment). Invariably, her plans would result in increased taxes on the wealthy and more government programs. Republicans would lambaste Stein for her European-style vision of the welfare state, and promotion of “government dependency”.

Stein adamantly supports a woman’s right to choose and access birth control, is staunchly in favour of same-sex marriage, and would move to legalize marijuana.

Ron Paul: Libertarian social philosophy and the promotion of free markets. Massive cuts to government spending in favour of privatization of education, healthcare, and many other programs. Guarantee of states’ rights, with a view to promoting competition amongst the states. Pacifism and non-interventionism. Unwavering adherence to the U.S. Constitution and rights and privileges contained therein. Reform of monetary policy, the end of the Federal Reserve, and a return to the gold standard from the current Bretton-Woods system. Favours personal freedom, and is amenable to the notion of same-sex marriage, but opposes abortion.

I disagree with most of Paul’s economic policies, but acknowledge that he is generally a man of his word.

Gary Johnson: A similar alternative to Ron Paul. Former governor of New Mexico.

Mitt Romney is, at this point, the only major candidate who remains a question mark. If he follows Tea Party principles, you can expect smaller government and draconian austerity measures, increased private debt, privatization and consolidation of corporate control, and a further exacerbation of the widening gulf between rich and poor that has grown exponentially since the Reagan years. Very likely, such policies will lead to increased civil unrest in the country, and require strengthening of both the police state and the military.

On the other hand, Romney could reprise his gubernatorial behaviour as President, and become Obama II; one key difference being, as a  Republican, he’d be portrayed as a conservative rather than a “big-government liberal” (in present-day America, political image tends to be more important than actual policy).

At this point, Romney’s rhetoric includes severe jingoism, increased military expenditures and threats, deregulation, further tax cuts to the individuals and corporations who least require them, and a monomaniacal obsession with jobs, jobs, jobs. But, as this blog entry, this Time magazine piece, and many other articles clearly demonstrate, you literally can’t take a single word the man says to the bank.

The conclusion: would you hire Mitt Romney?

Many employers require a thorough background check of a prospective hiree before they will even consider offering that individual a job. And, generally speaking, the more responsibility the position entails, the more thorough that background check ought to be.

But Mitt Romney is not a managerial candidate at a local drug store, or a bank, or even a prospect for the directorship of a major private enterprise. He’s running for the presidency of the United States, the world’s largest economic power, and command of the vastest nuclear arsenal and most powerful military force in human history. He’s a man who tells the truth only on those rare occasions that it suits him to do so, whose tax returns and business ventures remain largely shrowded in obscurity, and whose current and past behaviour suggest a character that is, at best, highly questionable.

To the American electorate, I would ask a simple question: based on reason, on what you know, and if your livelihood depended upon it, would you hire such a man to be the head of your small business?

If the answer is yes, how do you justify selecting someone whose secret Mormon undergarments are most likely custom-outfitted with flame-retardant compounds to repel the fire rising from his pants? A man about whom you have heard good things, but can confirm almost nothing?

And if the answer is no, why on Earth would you elect him to the presidency of the country you love?