Like the force of gravity or the sun rising in the east, Mitt Romney's pathological lying is now taken for granted. As Steve Benen among others can attest, documenting Romney's runaway mendacity may now be America's greatest growth industry.
Explaining the causes of Mitt's daily dissembling may be another. Rick Perlstein looked to Shakespeare, seeing Romney as an undoubting Hamlet determined to avenge his father's defeat most foul in 1968. Jonathan Chait turned to Freud, explaining there's even a clinical term for Mitt's compulsive aversion to the truth known as "fundamental attribution error." And last month, David Javerbaum cited particle physics in his "Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney."
But largely overlooked in the assessments of Romney's dependence on the Big Lie is his casual use of the Small Lie. That is, Romney's frequent falsehoods aren't just a cover for his flip-flopping past and unpopular future policies, but extend to even the most mundane and inconsequential aspects of his life. All, perhaps, in the vain hope of making the most unlikable presidential candidate in recent history slightly more acceptable to voters.
Romney recalled he was "probably 4 or something like that" the day of the Golden Jubilee, when three-quarters of a million people gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American automobile. "My dad had a job being the grandmaster. They painted Woodward Ave. with gold paint," Romney told a rapt Tea Party audience in the village of Milford Thursday night, reliving a moment of American industrial glory. The Golden Jubilee described so vividly by Romney was indeed an epic moment in automotive lore. The parade included one of the last public appearances by an elderly Henry Ford.Unfortunately, as the Toronto Star pointed out, Mitt wasn't alive to see it:
And it took place June 1, 1946 -- fully nine months before Romney was born.(Zygote Mitt's love of a good parade might explain why the formerly pro-choice Romney came to support so-called "personhood" amendments.) As it turns out, many episodes in Mitt's ersatz autobiography feature his beloved father, American Motors CEO and Michigan Governor George Romney. But while Mitt's dad did once meet with that conservative bogey man Saul Alinsky, George Romney never marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. As the Boston Globe recently reminded readers:
The timelines suggest Romney could well have been conceived that day. But it is inconceivable he was actually there.
In 2007, Romney had to acknowledge that he had not watched his father march with Martin Luther King Jr., as he had asserted in a nationally televised debate. Romney said at the time that his father had told him that he had marched with King and that he was using the word "saw" in a "figurative sense."Of course, the legend of George Romney plays another vital role for his son: human shield. Apparently, Mitt also had "the sense of being aware" that his father "grew up poor." As he put it recently:
"I did not see it with my own eyes, but I saw him in the sense of being aware of his participation in that great effort," Romney said then.
But historical evidence and news reports showed that George Romney never did march with King. The civil rights leader was supposed to march in Detroit, but he declined to attend.
"I'll tell you about how much I love this country, this extraordinary land, where someone like my dad, who grew up poor and never graduated from college, could pursue his dreams and work his way up to running a great car company. Only in America could a man like my dad become governor of the state in which he once sold paint from the trunk of his car."As the AP reported, "that's not the whole story."
Over time, though, Mitt's grandfather, Gaskell Romney, became prosperous, building some of the finest homes in Salt Lake City, according to the Globe book, but along with many other Americans suffered financial setbacks during the Great Depression.(As an aside, it's worth noting that Mitt's great-grandfather Miles Park Romney fled to Mexico to avoid prosecution, not persecution.)
Despite his best efforts to use his dad to close the empathy gap plaguing his campaign, the truth remains that Mitt Romney is living his American Dream; that is, being born to a father who achieved his own.
While "Dad used to regale us kids with claims that one year in Idaho his family lived on nothing but potatoes -- for breakfast, lunch and dinner," those privations were nothing compared to what young Mitt Romney endured during his 1960's church mission in France.In December, Romney explained that he was "living on no more than $110 a month in France" during those austere times. And the hardships were especially difficult when the call of nature could not be deferred:
"You're not living high on the hog at that level. A number of the apartments that I lived in when I was there didn't have toilets - we had instead the little pads on the ground - OK, you know how that works, pull - there was a chain behind you with kind of a bucket, bucket affair. I had not experienced one of those in the United States."But when Mitt claimed that "I lived in a way that people of lower middle income in France lived and I said to myself, 'Wow. I sure am lucky to be born in the United States of America,'" he was luckier than he let on. As the Boston Globe documented in 2007, when France was paralyzed by strikes in 1968 "Romney led a group of missionaries into Spain to find an open bank" to cash "checks sent from their parents." As the Globe also reported, "In spring 1968, Romney moved to the French mission headquarters, a grand building in the tony 16th arrondissement of Paris. The building is now the embassy of the United Arab Emirates." The Telegraph detailed just how tony:
"It was a house built by and for rich people," said Richard Anderson, the son of the mission president at the time of Mr Romney's stay. "I would describe it as a palace"...Of course, Romney was only able to save souls in the vineyards of France because of multiple deferments that kept him out of the rice paddies of Vietnam.
"They were very big rooms," said Christian Euvrard, the 72-year-old director of the Mormon-run Institute of Religion in Paris, who knew Mr Romney. "Very comfortable. The building had beautiful gilded interiors, a magnificent staircase in cast iron, and an immense hall"...
Mr Anderson said that as well as a refrigerator, the mansion had "a Spanish chef called Pardo and a house boy, who prepared lunch and supper five days a week".
In 1966, Stanford student Mitt Romney takes part in his only college protest, one in favor of the Vietnam War. But like many Mormon men of his age, the New Republic reported, Mitt received a 4-D draft exemption as a 'minister of religion or divinity student' that protected him from the draft from July 1966 to February 1969. As he explained in 2007, Romney supposedly felt guilty about it. "I longed in many respects to actually be in Vietnam and be representing our country there," Romney lamented, adding, "In some ways it was frustrating not to feel like I was there as part of the troops that were fighting in Vietnam." A 2007 Time magazine profile recounted Mitt's fateful choice between God and country:
The closest he has ever come to a personal religious crisis, he recalls, was when he was in college and considering whether to go off on a mission, as his grandfather, father and brother had done. Mitt was deeply in love with Ann, his high school sweetheart and future wife, and couldn't bear to spend more than two years away from her. He says he also felt guilty about the draft deferment he would get for it, when other young men his age were heading for Vietnam.But in a 1994 interview with the Boston Herald, Romney suggested he wasn't feeling nearly as guilty as he later claimed:
"Romney, however, acknowledged he did not have any desire to serve in the military during his college and missionary days, especially after he married and became a father," the newspaper wrote. "'I was not planning on signing up for the military,' he said. It was not my desire to go off and serve in Vietnam, but nor did I take any actions to remove myself from the pool of young men who were eligible for the draft. If drafted, I would have been happy to serve, and if I didn't get drafted I was happy to be with my wife and new child.'"Thirteen years later, candidate Mitt Romney explained he passed on that tradition to his five boys:
"My sons are all adults and they've made decisions about their careers and they've chosen not to serve in the military and active duty and I respect their decision in that regard. One of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping me get elected because they think I'd be a great president."Ultimately, Mitt Romney did take up arms, not to defend his country, but to win over a skeptical National Rifle Association during his first run for the White House. On April 3, 2007 the former Massachusetts Governor proudly proclaimed:
"I purchased a gun when I was a young man. I've been a hunter pretty much all my life."Pressed for details by a skeptical media, Romney two days later owned up to his poser status as a hunter:
"I'm not a big-game hunter. I've made that very clear. I've always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will. I began when I was 15 or so and I have hunted those kinds of varmints since then. More than two times."(Romney's gun troubles only deepened in December 2007 when he wrongly claimed a 2002 endorsement from the National Rifle Association he did not in fact receive.)
Mitt Romney's small lies even extend to his big houses. Running for Governor of Massachusetts in 2002, Mitt narrowly avoided a residency crisis by paying $54,000 in property taxes on the Utah resort home he had claimed as his primary residence. History almost repeated itself in 2010, when the Massachusetts Secretary of State's Elections Division had to look into vote fraud allegations against Romney after he sold his luxurious Belmont estate. (That's the one about which he would later explain, "I can't have illegals. I'm running for office for Pete's sake.")
Nevertheless, Mitt's tall tales about his huge houses continued into the 2012 campaign. Unlike John McCain, Mitt Romney at least knows how many homes he owns. (Which state he lives in, votes in and pays taxes in is another matter.) When Mitt sold two of their four multi-million dollar mansions in 2009, spokesman Eric "Etch-a-Sketch" Fehrnstrom said the Romneys were "downsizing and simplifying."
Sadly for Fehrnstrom and the Romney campaign. Mitt Romney himself cited his purchase of a $12 million, 6,000 square foot beachside home in California as proof hadn't been planning to run for president a second time. As Romney told the Wall Street Journal last December:
The Republican presidential candidate says he never intended to run for office again after 2008--"I went back and bought a home which was far too expensive and grandiose for the purposes of another campaign," he jokes. He was drawn back into public life amid Mr. Obama's bid to "fundamentally transform" the country, to use the president's own words, into "an entitlement society," to use Mr. Romney's.Right. And I have a bridge to sell. (Perhaps Mitt Romney would buy it to connect the car elevator he hopes to build for the California home he bought when he intended to sit out the 2012 election.)
And so it goes.
Last week, delicate conservatives were getting the vapors after David Maraniss' non-revelation that Dreams of My Father author Barack Obama admitted penning a "composite" of his college girlfriends in order to protect their privacy. But what for Obama was an episode of artistic license is now a lifestyle for Mitt Romney. No part of Romney's biography is too small to be burnished, rewritten or just made up out of whole cloth.
And that tells you a lot about the man. After all, if integrity is what you do when no one's watching, the truth is what you say whether it matters or not.