There are guidelines for just about every profession, from businessman to lawyer, to doctor and social worker, regarding ethical conduct. This is not really so in politics. In fact, we Americans are acutely aware of dishonesty and corruption in our politics. There’s that joke, “How do you know if a politician is lying? His mouth is open.”
Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s travels said, “Politicks, as the word is commonly understood, is nothing but corruptions.”
George Orwell said, “Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
The American writer H.L. Mencken said, “If experience teaches us anything at all, it teaches us that a good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.”
Dishonesty in politics is a sad fact in our modern political landscape. Even worse is that political dishonesty is widely accepted- even admired by many who aspire to be close to the politically connected. It shouldn’t be so.
Even the free press, which has all but left behind objectvity and a “just the facts ma’am” approach to news, move their coverage and broadcasts to an area they call the “spin room” after a debate, where politicians have the opportunity to lie some more in last minute desperate attempts to gain some kind of political advantage over their opponents.
The problem, though, is that honesty is not spun.
Since he ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, Romney has been particularly known for his proclivity for brazen dishonesty that aggressively breaches the already low standards we have for honesty in our politicians.
In January 26th’s CNN Debate in Florida, that kind of unethical dishonesty was on full display. Romney wants the American people to believe that his health care mandate in Massachussets is different in some way than the Obama mandate he is campaigning vociferously against. In one exchange, even the number of people covered by Romneycare was said to be 91%, then 94%, and finally 98%. Romney bends the truth as far as he possibly can in defending his record on one of the most important issues in the GOP primary, even to the extent of begrudgingly acknowledging that his bill also fines people who decide not to carry traditional health care.
When asked about attack ads he put out against Newt Gingrich, shown to be filled with lies, Romney insisted that he didn’t know anything about the television spot, even though he spoke spanish in tagging the add “I’m Mitt Romney and I approve this message.” When Romney asked Wolf Blitzer if the charges made in the ad were true, it was painfully clear it was a carefully scripted moment, painfully clear that Mitt Romney knew exactly which ad had created the controversy and exactly which ad he took personal liberty with the truth in.
When asked about his millions of dollars of investments in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Romney once again feigned ignorance of his own investments. The problem is, Romney had already researched Gingrich’s Mutual fund, indicating that at the very moment Romney opened his mouth to deny any knowledge of being heavily vested in the failed housing agencies, he lied. Romney knew and was prepared to counter Gingrich’s claim, but told the American people otherwise.
Many local St. Paul Republican leaders in support of Mitt Romney argue he wasn’t lying, but that he genuinely didn’t know. The debate footage shows he dodged taking responsibility for his own ads, his own investments, even his own legislation and his own words.
Which begs the question: What is the worst quality a president can have- that he’s an opportunisitc and compulsive liar, or that he refuses to take responsibility for himself and for the decisions he makes, whatever the consequences?
Both can be equally devastating to the office of President and the image of the United States in the world.
Politicians do lie. They lie often, whether outright or through half-truths- or in the “spin room” after a debate, but what Mitt Romney might see as “bending the truth” just a little bit would break a fork in two if he held the truth in his hands.
Romney’s failure is not the political liability he poses in the GOP nominations process with the health care plan he crafted, or the various Swiss and Cayman Island tax shelters he makes extensive use of, or his positions on abortion and marriage, or even his failure to take responsibility for his decisions.
Romney’s failure is his reputation for blatant dishonesty, not just this campaign season, but over a life-time of politics.
There may not be a code of ethics for politicians in America, but one would hope that the Party of Honest Abe would want to nominate an honest candidate in what is described by many as one of the most pivotal elections in American history.
After all, the American people are sorely tired of being lied to by politicians. Whether reflecting on Bill Clinton’s famous words, “I did not have sex with that woman,” or John Edwards’ public denials of fathering a child out of wedlock during the last presidential campaign while his wife lay dying of cancer, or Barack Obama’s campaign lies that he would close down Gitmo and bring all the troops home within his first month in office (our troops are still not home, only re-stationed in Qatar), we are tired of being lied to. It might be one of the greatest failures of the political process were a dishonest Romney to win the nomination of his party.
Sure Romney might be lying about “little things,” but if he can’t bring himself to transparently tell the truth on the “little things” how can the American people ever imagine that he would tell us the truth on the big things if he ascends to the highest office of the free world? How could a country possibly move forward with a leader that has the substance and ethical fortitude of merely “pure wind”?