Romney Tests the Limits on Lying

Americans may see themselves as worldly cynics when it comes to political lying, observing that all politicians do it. But Mitt Romney is testing the limits with his ever-shifting positions and outright lies, notes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

Mitt Romney might be the most brazen political liar since James Polk, who served as the 11th U.S. president (1845-1849) and lied through his teeth to Congress, to his cabinet, to the newspapers to get the country into a war with Mexico.

Of course, other presidents have lied to a similar end, for instance President Lyndon Johnson on the Vietnam War and President George W. Bush on the Iraq War. But Polk operated with the same audacious “lying is part of what I do” disposition that Mitt Romney does.

James Polk, the 11th President of the United States.

If one has any doubt about Mitt Romney’s mendacious temperament, the first presidential debate should have put it to rest. According to one analyst, Romney let loose with “27 myths in 38 minutes,”  finishing with a big grin after most of these prevarications. He produced trumped-up assertions, false statistics and wild exaggerations about taxes, energy independence, job creation, the deficit, Medicare, “Obamacare,” and military spending.

If the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri came back to life today and produced an updated list of lost souls for the “Inferno” section of his Divine Comedy, Romney would certainly earn a spot in the 8th rung of hell. That is where Dante placed, among others, the “falsifiers, those who attempted to alter things through lies or alchemy.” Their punishment was “based on horrible diseases such as rashes, dropsy, leprosy and consumption.”

By the way, there seems to be a suspicion that Romney  also cheated during the first debate. The debate rules say that the candidates cannot use “prepared notes.” However, a video of the debate shows that he had put what looks like a white piece of paper down on his podium, or maybe it was just his handkerchief. But who could believe that Romney might cheat?

Some Specifics

The second presidential debate, scheduled for Oct. 16, will be partially about foreign policy. As a run-up to the moment, Romney gave a speech on foreign affairs. It should be kept in mind that between Oct. 8th and Oct. 16 he might completely change his positions. The man has such a flip-flop record that this is quite possible.

However, assuming he doesn’t do that, let’s take a look at just how truthful are his foreign policy statements:

As Robert Parry points out in Consortium News, Romney lied when he said Obama “has not signed one new free trade agreement in the past four years.” Obama has in fact signed three (South Korea, Panama and Columbia). Romney also lied when he said that Obama was “silent” during the suppression of demonstrations in Iran after the reelection of President Amadinejad. Obama spoke out on multiple occasions.

By the way, one might not approve of NAFTA-style trade agreements. I certainly don’t. But that does not make Romney’s lies about Obama’s actions acceptable.

Parry goes on to detail how Romney’s accusation that Obama’s foreign policy is “weak” is  groundless. After all, he is talking about the man who wages war in Afghanistan, helped bring down the dictatorship in Libya, and took down Osama bin Laden. Parry explains that Romney credits a lot of this to the U.S. military as if Obama had nothing to do with it.

Once more, Obama’s foreign policy has much about it that can be criticized. So, why do it through sheer falsehoods?  Perhaps because Romney actually has no problem with Obama’s actions, but does not want the public to associate them with the president.

Then there is Romney’s sudden embracing of a Palestinian state when just a few months ago he described such a goal as “almost unthinkable to accomplish.” At that time the reason he gave for his position was that Palestinians are not interested in peace. That was an outrageous lie.

It is hard to believe that he has now changed his mind. More likely he is attempting to preclude any charge that he has abandoned the search for peace, even as he asserts that Obama has not displayed leadership toward that same end.

When it comes to the Arab Spring, Obama allegedly missed “an historic opportunity to win new friends and share our values in the Middle East.” Who would these friends be? Those fighting against “evil tyrants and angry mobs who seek to harm us.”

This is so much gobbledygook. Most of the evil tyrants are our longstanding old friends and the angry mobs are the only hope for any governmental improvement.

Parry points out that the real difference between Romney and Obama is that Romney is much more the militarist. He has embraced neocon advisers, given carte blanche to Israel and verbally attacked Russia as “without question, our No. 1 geopolitical foe.”

All of this suggests that between Obama (who is certainly no saint and has plenty of blood on his own hands) and Romney, it is the latter who is more likely to get the nation into yet another war. As Juan Cole has observed, “wars and lots of other conflicts are not a foreign policy vision, they are a nightmare.”

Does Lying Work?

So, does this serial falsification work? Can it actually help get a mythomanic elected president? It seems that the answer is yes.

According to a Pew Research Center poll taken after the first Obama-Romney debate,  “It’s official. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romneyerased President Barack Obama’s lead.” According to a graph of the poll results Romney’s picked up five percentage points to come even with Obama. Sixty-four percent of voters “thought that Romney was more informative than President Obama.”

The liar is more informative!? How is that possible? Well, you start with a lot of ignorance. The ignorance is not a function of lack of intelligence, but a function of lack of accurate contextual knowledge.

As a consequence the level of understanding of the average American about government policy on national issues such as  health care, energy independence, job creation, the deficit, military spending and even taxes is considerably lower than their average IQ. It is even worse when we get to foreign policy and its formulation.

Into the resulting knowledge vacuum come the misleading statements and assertions of politicians, so-called experts, and media spokesman of all descriptions. Fox News has made millions of dollars selling advertising that accompanies biased opinion passed off as fact.

In the end what the majority of Americans think they know about both domestic and foreign policy is based on media hear-say. Romney’s assertive and stylized lying fits well into this scenario. And his style also passes for strength and self-confidence.

Is it Pathological?

Romney’s lying is so pervasive, so ever-present, that one starts to wonder if it is pathological. There is a mental illness characterized by habitual lying. It goes by the name of Pseudologia Fantastica. Here are some of the characteristics of this ailment:

a. The lies told “are not entirely improbable” and “upon confrontation, the teller can admit them to be untrue, even if unwillingly.” In other words, the liar is aware that he or she is lying.

b. The lies told cast the teller in a favorable light.

c. The tendency to lie is a long-lasting one and not the product of the moment. It reflects an innate trait of the personality.

Well, Romney fits this pattern when it comes to the first two traits. It is hard to tell about the third. We will have to await the in-depth biographies that are certain to hit the market in short order. However, there is no doubt that the man has an easy facility for lying. One doubts if it keeps him up at night.

When the powerful lie it is a problem for all of us. That is because we do not usually act on the basis of what is true. Rather we act on the basis of what we think is true. When it comes to foreign policy, what the powerful and the media tell us is what most of us accept as true.

This distinction between what is true and what we think is true is critically important. If what we believe is true approximates the reality outside of us, then our plans and actions usually work out. If, however, what we think is true is off the mark, we can end up walking right off a cliff.

In the last 50 years Americans have been walking off cliffs quite regularly, with the result that millions have been killed and maimed. They have done so in large part because they have a hard time knowing when they are being lied to, especially about foreign policy.

If the Pew poll cited above is any predictor, nothing is going to change any time soon. Elect Mitt Romney and that walk toward the cliff might turn into a run. Reelect Obama, and the cliff will probably remain our self-destructive destination, but perhaps the pace will be more measured.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

4 comments for “Romney Tests the Limits on Lying

  1. clarence swinney
    October 12, 2012 at 16:43

    I hate to repeat but this is sooo important to get to Obama. Ko stuff
    Please help.

    President Obama would have destroyed Mitt had he used these two

    Romney said: “My first act will be to defund Planned Parenthood.”
    “My first act will be to repeal Obamacare.”

    Planned Parenthood prevents more abortions than any unit in America.
    Free contraceptives to poorest of poor women.
    Has Mitt never studied the Bible?
    The word most used by Jesus is POOR.
    PP provides preventative health care to poorest of the poor women.

    Mitt does not understand our legal system. You cannot just repeal Laws on whims.
    Only Dictators do that.
    Clarence Swinney—scared to death of that rich man–
    p.s. Ryan in vp debate-Life begins at conception. we are anti-abortion except
    in the case of rape-incest-life of the mother—Ha! Bill Clinton Speaking?

  2. F. G. Sanford
    October 11, 2012 at 13:33

    Suppose politicians told the truth? What would they say? An “honest” State of the Union address would go something like this:

    In 1971, Richard Nixon eliminated the gold standard. At that time, all international oil market purchases were transacted in United States dollars, hence the name “petrodollars”. This meant that all nations engaged in the oil trade needed to buy dollars in order to survive. As long as this was true, there was a demand for the dollar. The United States could create dollars to pay its debts, then sell those debts to countries like China as an investment, not unlike bond initiatives to raise money at the local level. They had no choice but to buy our debt, so they could continue to purchase oil on the world market. The drawback is that we pay interest.

    Today, not only is oil an essential commodity, but so is natural gas. India and China need it more than we do. Their demand for oil is also growing. In order to control these resources, a variety of pipeline strategies have been proposed throughout the Middle East and East Asia. These have had a lot of names, like TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) or IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) or the so-called “New Silk Road”, or the so-called “Freedom Pipeline”. The pipeline America wants is not the pipeline Russia or China want. Iran is now selling oil in currency other than the dollar, because of our sanctions. We put those sanctions on Iran because Iran will not cooperate with our pipeline plan. Their democratically elected dictator refuses to be reasonable. The Taliban would not agree to the pipeline we wanted either, so their fate was sealed. Our government realized a few years ago that Venezuela had the world’s largest oil reserves. So, our clandestine government agencies wisely attempted to overthrow the democratically elected dictator there too. He was more concerned with the economic welfare of his people than with oil company profits, an obviously misguided strategy. This was a blow to our international prestige, but most of you have never heard the story.

    On the bright side, Saddam Hussein, who also would not cooperate and was trying to sell oil in Euros instead of dollars, was militarily defeated. This eliminated a significant threat to the status of the petrodollar. Muammar Gaddafi unwisely attempted to create a new currency, the Gold Dinar, with which to liberate emerging African nations from the stranglehold of American economic hegemony. We dealt with him in short order, eliminating another significant threat to petrodollar oil transactions. By creating chaos in Syria, we hope to destabilize another government that is resistant to our plans to control resources. So far, this is showing promise of success. By manipulating foreign currency through our control of international banking cartels, we have managed to encourage debt accumulation in Europe. By controlling the money supply, the IMF has succeeded in subjecting these countries to privatization and divestiture in order to remain solvent. Those governments have succeeded in shifting those debts to the working class taxpayer. They are protesting, but their demands are unlikely to be taken seriously. This strategy has not entirely worked in the United States, but we are making progress. Foreclosures are helping our banks take possession of durable commodities, and as long as the petrodollar remains sound, this will continue to progress.

    In order to cut production costs and keep the price of consumer goods low, we have shipped most of our high-tech manufacturing to China, Taiwan, India, Malaysia and Viet Nam. They are grateful. But, they have advanced economically as a result of our generosity. Unfortunately, their demand for oil has also increased. This threatens our economic status, and has created a kind of Pascal’s Wager. We cannot afford the products we now manufacture there unless we maintain the economic disparity that has always existed. It is almost an economic law that profitable foreign investment can only be sustained as long as there are rich nations and poor nations. Their development spells disaster for us. If we cannot hinder their economic progress, we are doomed. If Russia or China, the countries which border those oil and gas resources, are allowed to control them, our dollars could become worthless.

    Our government has become dysfunctional. We cannot achieve consensus in Congress regarding rational solutions to these problems. This dysfunction has, by the same token, made war an easy option. And it is one that is acceptable to you, the American Citizen. Despite the existence of rational solutions to these problems, the only practical approach, under the circumstances, is war. In order to be successful, however, it will not be a contained, little war from which you are isolated by a media campaign sugar-coated in optimistic slogans. This will be a big war, and it will require big sacrifices. It must be conducted on a grand enough scale to successfully destroy competing economies. None of us, except for a small, perhaps 1% of the essential population, will be spared from the privations likely to ensue. But, as a patriotic nation, I know we will all do our part to prevail. As the dollar collapses and the price of food sky-rockets, the authorities will be standing by to protect you from disorder. We will not let the trouble-makers exploit the suffering of our proud and patriotic nation. Food riots will not be permitted. In keeping with our heritage of a strong national defense, your loyalty, dedication and perseverance will assure the ultimate victory of our nation. We have always been victorious, regardless of the naysayers who would have you believe otherwise. And so, my fellow Americans, be prepared, but do not lose faith. Good luck, and God Bless America!

  3. clarence swinney
    October 11, 2012 at 11:18

    President Obama would have destroyed Mitt had he used these two

    Romney said: “My first act will be to defund Planned Parenthood.”
    “My first act will be to repeal Obamacare.”

    Planned Parenthood prevents more abortions than any unit in America.
    Free contraceptives to poorest of poor women.
    Has Mitt never studied the Bible?
    The word most used by Jesus is POOR.
    PP provides preventative health care to poorest of the poor women.

    Mitt does not understand our legal system. You cannot just repeal Laws on whims.
    Only Dictators do that.
    Clarence Swinney—scared to death of that rich man—

  4. Hillary
    October 11, 2012 at 09:29

    Lying or spinning the truth is well practiced by every politician.

    In the US as elsewhere its mainly the media money that counts .

    The deliberate manipulation of public opinion without equal air time on major radio and television programs for the less popular, wealthy or influential is the general rule.

    The CIA called it “keeping them calm”

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