A few months ago, when confronted about running an ad that depicted President Obama discussing the economy — when he was actually quoting John McCain — Mitt Romney said, “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” I have previously suggested that the ability to disconnect words from authorship has made changing positions even easier for Romney.
But this pattern of lying and not acknowledging it, even when confronted directly, has persisted and led me to look for other sources of Romney’s behavior and of his clear comfort with continuing it. I think much of this comfort stems from his Mormon faith.
First, let’s look at a recent example. Last month, Romney held up a book called The Escape Artists by Noam Scheiber of the New Republic. He said the book showed that the Obama Administration knew that Obamacare would slow down economic recovery and didn’t particularly care.
Scheiber wrote on May 21, 2012, that Romney had the wrong takeaway from the book. He quoted Romney as having said, “In this book, they point out that they said the American people will forget how long this recovery took. So that means that when they went into this knowing that when they passed Obamacare, it was going to make life harder for the American people.”
That is not what Scheiber wrote, though he did write that the Obama Administration could have done more to help create jobs by pushing for a bigger stimulus package. He never said Obama knew that he was sacrificing the economy to pursue a pet project.
What is not dramatic is that Romney did not recant his position after Scheiber detailed what the book actually said three days later. But what is dramatic is what happened two weeks later, on June 6, when Romney said the same thing again — albeit with slight differences. Romney said the Obama Administration “knowingly slowed down our recovery in order to put in place Obamacare, which they wanted and they considered historic but the American people did not want or consider historic.”
So on June 7, Scheiber again had to repeat the actual words from his book. Rachel Maddow, on her MSNBC program, asked why Romney continues to lie in the face of evidence to the contrary. She said that in the case of Solyndra, when Romney lied explicitly about where the money went, he was “nailed for telling that lie” about Solyndra’s steering money to the Obama Administration’s friends and family. The Chicago Tribune headline “Romney Hits the Sauce Again” implied that you can be a teetotaler and still behave with the certainty of a drunk.
I found myself discussing this situation with several colleagues, and we agreed that Romney doesn’t lie. Let me repeat: Mitt Romney doesn’t lie. He is telling the truth as he sees it — and truth it is, the facts notwithstanding. This is not simply a case of Hamlet arguing about point of view, saying, “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” This is about a conflict between evidence and faith. There is a long tradition in the Mormon belief system in which evidence takes second place to faith. Examples abound, as when two Mormon elders who were questioned about the inconsistency in passages from the Book of Mormon said, “We know the Book of Mormon is true and that it contains the Word of God even in the face of evidence that appears contradictory,” according to The Mormon Missionaries by former Mormon Janice Hutchison. Thus there are no lies, only faith-based certainty that translates as truth for which no apology is needed, since what was said was not a lie.
Children learn to lie at different times in their development, but almost always by the age of 10. Their lies help establish them as separate from their parents, especially if the parents believe them. And one doesn’t have to be a Mormon to lie — just look at John Edwards or former Nevada Senator John Ensign. But in the Mormon Church, there was a decision to accept authority as true — whether or not evidence supported it. Hence Joseph Smith, the founder of the faith in 1820, claimed he was illiterate and received the Book of Mormon directly from God. But he could read, and read very well.
This unwavering faith is central to Romney’s comfort in deflecting any examples that the press might bring up of his lying. Further, it allows him to repeat lies again and again — both personally and in political advertising — because to him they are not lies at all. I’m reminded of that old epigram from the 1960s: “My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with the facts.” That may be all good and well in many offices, but it’s not so good in the Oval Office.