FLOTSAM & JETSAM: The pathological deceit of Mitt Romney

Sunday, August 05, 2012

The pathological deceit of Mitt Romney

Sam Smith 

A little over a month ago, I wrote about Romney’s unusual capacity for lying, but in the weeks that followed, have come to believe that I was too cautious. What we seem to have is not merely a bad politician but a pathological liar who is psychologically disoriented to a degree found, for example,  only in about one in a thousand repeat juvenile offenders. 

Consider, for example, this assessment of Romney by Michael Cohen in the Guardian:

Romney persists in repeating the same lies over and over, even after they've been debunked. This is perhaps the most interesting and disturbing element of Romney's tireless obfuscation: that even when corrected, it has little impact on the presumptive GOP nominee's behavior.

This is a pretty good description of pathological lying. Here’s another from the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry:

Falsification entirely disproportionate to any discernible end in view, may be extensive and very complicated, and may manifest over a period of years or even a lifetime.

Wikipedia offers these characteristics of the disease:

The fabricative tendency is long lasting; it is not provoked by the immediate situation or social pressure as much as it is an innate trait of the personality.

The stories told tend toward presenting the liar favorably. For example, the person might be presented as being fantastically brave, knowing or being related to many famous people.

Some might argue that Romney is actually a sociopathic liar, defined by one scholarly site on deception as a person  who is “often goal-oriented (i.e., lying is focused - it is done to get one's way).  Sociopaths have little regard or respect for the rights and feelings of others.  Sociopaths are often charming and charismatic, but they use their talented social skills in manipulative and self-centered ways.”
There is, however, something oddly robotic about Romney’s behavior, including a bizarre smile that does not fade whatever the topic,   suggesting not deliberate falsehood with a stealthily conceived goal so much as an unthinking soldier over-drilled in the art of mendacity. 

Just in the past few days, Romney has been caught lying about several things that an ordinary good liar would probably avoid. 

- He made up a fictional account of his time as a Mormon missionary in Paris complete with misleading descriptions of his economic conditions at the time and the state of his bathroom. 

- He was found to have misstated his residency status in two states at the time that he was launching his bid for for governor there. 

- His campaign has run an ad featuring an Ohio auto dealer claiming that Obama’s auto firm bailout had cost dealer jobs in the state. While it may have caused that dealer jobs; in fact, across Ohio dealership jobs increased. 

Only one of these lies – the residency issue – was significant because of the benefits it might produce, i.e. making it legal for Romney to run for Massachusetts governor. The other two were trivial, easily exposed, and ultimately pointless. 

Romney – unlike, say, a Nixon or Clinton – lies out of habit and nature rather than out of perceived necessity. And he doesn’t just exaggerate; he makes up wholly fictitious tales. 

Romney has been greatly aided in this by the demise of American journalism, which now - like much of the country – considers any message to be a reasonable facsimile of reality and, further, one from which one may, with impunity, “walk back” should it prove embarrassing. The days when the conventional press was more loyal to the truth than to favored sources has well passed and now honesty has no embedded press corps to cover it. 

What is not clear about Romney, however, is whether his propensity for deception is a personally developed dysfunction or whether it is the result of what can fairly be called brainwashing by the Mormon Church, where he rose from missionary to bishop. 

Here again you can expect no  help from the conventional media which is afraid to question the role of religion in our culture or politics for fear of seeming biased. And so the press has not dared to look into the scary history and practices of the Mormon Church even as they affect someone running for the White House. 

As we’ve noted in the past, Romney is not your average run-of-the-mill three hour a week Christian. When he was young he was a Mormon missionary. He went to a Mormon university, Brigham Young. He was a ward bishop, a home teacher, a church counselor, and later president over the Boston Stake, a collection of congregations with over four thousand members. He always tithed to the church, and by 2011 his family’s annual contribution was around $2 million.

No one who has held such a high position in any church has ever before ended up within a handful of percentage points of the presidency.

Further, no one has come this close to the White House who has been subjected to a level of mental manipulation such as takes place during one’s rise in the Mormon Church.

Read, for example, this by former seminary principal and teacher Ken Clark on “lying for the Lord:”
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 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. .  .

I went into this further in my piece last month but another quote is particularly revealing:

As a full-time Mormon missionary from 1975 to 1977, I lied for the church countless times. Like my colleagues in the South Dakota-Rapid City Mission, which served the Dakotas and adjacent areas, I spoke truthfully about my background, but touted many Mormon teachings that contradict the Bible. After my mission ended, however, I examined these doctrines more closely. The harder I tried to reconcile the contradictions, the more evident they became. So, after extensive prayer and study, I resigned my church membership in 1984. . .

I can't remember all of my missionary lies. Some were small, others grandiose, but all were false and misleading. Here are ten I'll never forget.

1. We're Not Trying to Convert You
2. The Bible is Insufficient
3. We're the Only True Christians
4. We're the Only True Church
5. We Have a Living Prophet
6. The Book of Mormon is Scripture
7. You're Saved By Works
8. People Can Become Gods
9. You're Born Again By Becoming a Mormon
10. Temple Marriage is Required for Eternal Life

This is what Romney was teaching regardless of what sort of bathroom he had.

He was trying to sell people a faith with false promises and false descriptions, including that of the real character of its founder.

Whether this reflects his intrinsic character or whether he has been indoctrinated into the art of deceit we will probably never know. But what we can be sure of is that we don’t need a president so chronically and irredeemably committed to telling lies.