For most people, it’s a given that politicians lie, but even with such universally low expectations for candidates, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney stands out. The brazenness and persistence of Romney’s lying has drawn notice from all quarters. This isn’t just the perception of wild-eyed liberals, either. In October, 2011, Matt Welch of Reason.com, a right-leaning publication that supports free markets, wrote about Romney’s prodigious lying in an article titled “Mitt Romney’s Lying Problem”. An October 8, 2012 Forbes.com article noted Romney’s large number of lies and reversals in positions on policies. Even far right-wing Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich openly called Mitt Romney a liar on CBS News’ “The Early Show.”
Mitt Romney’s prodigious lying exceeds anything ever seen before in American politics, by all accounts. Given this, one overall question remains: How can Romney be so comfortable with such lying? Most average Americans would recoil at the idea of spewing as many lies as Romney has, let alone doing it in the white-hot spotlight of the national and global media. So what has given rise to a person like Romney, who so verifiably, consistently and freely lies the way he does? And how does this square with his Mormon religion, which, at least in print, preaches that complete honesty is necessary for salvation?
Justin Frank, M.D., a psychoanalyst who writes about the Republican psyche, in a June, 2012 article on Time.com discussed the possible roots of Romney’s remarkable comfort with lying. Frank concluded that Romney must believe what he says is actually true. Frank noted that Romney even sticks with his own version of facts after being corrected by highly credible sources — something no really honest person would be able to do.
Some ex-Mormons also tell of a facet of Mormonism that teaches that it is okay to lie when necessary for a higher cause, or to protect the Mormon religion from persecution. In a discussion of Romney, Brigham Young’s great-great granddaughter, Sue Emmett, explains that “This kind of thing [lying] has sadly been a part of the church from the very beginning. Some modern apostles actually taught that it is not always the best thing to tell the truth if it interferes with preaching gospel.” Emmett explained that the notion of “Lying for the Lord,” or lying to protect the image of and belief in the Mormon church, implies that teaching the entire truth about the church should be avoided. Emmet became disillusioned with the Mormon church, left it in 2003 and founded the ExMormon Foundation, to support others who have left the church. Emmet’s explanation is echoed by Ken Clark, who worked was a teacher within the Mormon church’s education system for 27 years and was a bishop in the Church before prior to leaving the Church in 2003. Clark explains that Mormons are taught from a young age that it is okay to lie — or at least not fully disclose information — as long as it’s for a higher cause. He says lying is “an institutionalized method of administrative control within the church,” and says, “It’s OK for Mitt Romney to ignore the principle of full disclosure because it’s in his DNA.” As one example of this, he points to Romney’s failure to disclose his tax returns to the public.
Ruth Todd, a spokeswoman for the Mormon Church dismisses the idea that a culture of dishonesty exists within the church, and says such claims are ridiculous. But research shows that dishonesty in the Mormon Church goes back as far as the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, who in 1836 organized a quasi-financial institution called the Kirtland Safety Society, ostensibly to serve the banking needs of Mormons in Kirtland, Ohio. Smith opened the bank and started giving loans to Mormons despite being denied a bank charter by the government and despite being woefuly undercapitalized. In January, 1938, the government issued a warrant for Smith’s arrest on charges of illegal banking, and Smith fled the county. The Kirtland Safety Society ultimately collapsed, bankrupting many faithful Mormons who had trusted Smith.
Also notable on the topic of dishonesty and evasion of the truth in Mormonism is a videotaped lecture of a Mormon missionary prep class titled “Overcomong Objections” given by Brigham Young University professor Dr. Robert L. Millet. Millet has been on BYU’s faculty since 1983, and served as the school’s Dean of Religious Education. He specializes in the doctrine of the Book of Mormon and teaches a course in that subject at BYU. In his lecture, Millet instructs up-and-coming young Mormon missionaries about how to handle anti-Mormon criticism. Millet tells the class to avoid discussing the particulars of Mormonism that people might objectionable (presumably tenets such as baptism of the dead or that Mormons believe the Garden of Eden is located in Jackson County, Missouri.) Millet instructs missionaries in the art of evasive speech, telling attendees they should “Answer the question a questioner SHOULD have asked, not the question you ARE asked.” Millet further tells attendees, “Never use meat when milk will do.” Romney may never have heard this lecture, but certainly Mormon missionaries, who by definition confront people to try and sell the Mormon religion, are given instruction in how to evade discussion of the more embarrassing tenets of their religion — an evasive speaking skill that is easily transferable to politicking.
Whatever the origins of Romney’s comfort with extreme lying — whether it comes from his life-long experience in the Mormon church, his business experience or elsewhere — it is causing a large number of Americans, including many within his own party, to be uncomfortable enough to conclude that he is unfit to hold the presidency. One example of this is the Salt Lake Tribune, a conservative newspaper in the heart of Utah, the Mormon homeland, which on October 19, 2012, endorsed President Obama for a second term. The paper wrote,
“…From his embrace of the party’s radical right wing, to subsequent portrayals of himself as a moderate champion of the middle class, Romney has raised the most frequently asked question of the campaign: “Who is this guy, really, and what in the world does he truly believe?” The evidence suggests no clear answer, or at least one that would survive Romney’s next speech or sound bite. Politicians routinely tailor their words to suit an audience. Romney, though, is shameless, lavishing vastly diverse audiences with words, any words, they would trade their votes to hear.
As former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said of Romney, “Someone who will lie to you to get to be president will lie to you when they are president.” And as President Obama said after his first debate with Romney, “If you want to be president, you owe the American people the truth.” Americans are getting remarkably little verifiable truth from Romney — and that may be the only thing that is really true about his campaign so far.