All my life I’ve covered politicians who lie. In different ways. Richard Nixon looked like he was lying when he said “Good morning.” Joe McCarthy lied to destroy people. George Bush lied to invade Iraq. Bill Clinton lied when his back was against the wall. Barack Obama lies like a Harvard lawyer.
In recent years, I have thought of Bill Clinton as the best presidential liar. The step son of an auto salesman, Clinton’s fictions began early. For example, most Americans don’t know his family actually moved from the politically well named Hope to the mob resort of Hot Springs when he was only seven. As a Hot Spring prosecutor put it, “In Hot Springs, growing up here, you were living a lie. You lived a lie because you knew that all of these activities were illegal. I mean, as soon as you got old enough to be able to read a newspaper, you knew that gambling in Arkansas was illegal, prostitution was illegal. And so you lived this lie.” Better just to say you came from Hope. But Clinton’s lies, right up to the Lewinsky incident, were largely to protect or promote himself.
And it is true that lying by the prominent has moved from being an offense to being a cultural norm. Still, I have to confess that I have been taken aback by Mitt Romney’s ability, consistency and frequency in lying. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in an American political figure.
Romney lies about the past, he lies about his opponents, he aggressively hides every truth that might be embarrassing, he conceals some things and refuses to talk about others, he changes his position on issues like they were a pair of yesterday’s socks. And through it all he maintains a plastic smile and a voice without dynamics as though it were elevator music.
The first person he reminded me of was Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman:
LINDA: How’d the Chevy run?
WILLY: Chevrolet, Linda, is the greatest car ever built.
LINDA: No, they did a wonderful job. Then you owe Frank for the carburetor.
WILLY: I’m not going to pay that man! That goddamn Chevrolet, they ought to prohibit the manufacture of that car!
And as Charlie said of Willy: “For a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine.”
Others have noted Romney’s love of dissembling. Michael Cohen in the Guardian wrote:
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 happening at a time when fact-checking operations in major media outlets have increased significantly, yet that appears to have no effect on the Romney campaign.
Richard Cohen in the Washington Post sees it this way:
I admire a smooth liar, and Romney is among the best. His technique is to explain and then counterattack. He maintains the bulletproof demeanor of a man who is barely suffering fools… His message is not so much what he says, but what he is: You cannot touch me. I have the organization and the money. Especially the money. (Even the hair.) You’re a loser.
There are those who maintain that President Obama, too, is a liar. . . But where Romney is different is that he is not honest about himself. He could, as he did just recently, stand before the National Rifle Association as if he were, in spirit as well as membership, one of them. In body language, in the blinking of the eyes, in the nonexistent pounding pulse, there was not the tiniest suggestion that here was a man who just as confidently once embodied the anti-gun ethic of Massachusetts, the distant land he once governed. Instead, he tore into Obama for the (nonexistent) threat the president posed to Second Amendment rights — a false accusation from a false champion.
But for me, there is something else: the lies of a religious missionary. There is no place outside of a salesroom where the recitation of the unproven or untrue as undeniable truth is more acceptable than in religious huckstering and there are few religions that do it better than the Mormons.
The media is afraid to talk about this because it will seen as not having proper respect for religion. But when religion enters politics, it must be judged like any other lobby. That’s as much respect as it should get.
Besides, 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.
What does this have to do with telling the truth? Start by checking out this remarkable video clip of a Mormon professor on how Mormons should answer questions about their faith. It should be required viewing for every campaign reporter.
Or read this by Ken Clark on “lying for the Lord:”
I worked as a Seminary Principal/teacher, Institute teacher/Director, and Stake CES Coordinator from 1975 – 2002. My last assignment was brief. I signed a Letter of Agreement with CES to serve as the Director of the Pullman, Washington LDS Institute of Religion adjacent to Washington State University in July 2002. I resigned from CES a month later. I carry fond memories of the students, ward leaders and others I grew to respect in the LDS Church. I started this list in an effort to defend the church from its detractors. I was insulted that critics accused LDS church leaders of dishonesty. I “knew” the criticisms could not be true. . . .
I believed a list of prevarications presented in the proper context would prove that lying wasn’t actually lying. Instead the list would prove that a perceived lie was probably a misunderstanding, a remark out of context or a deliberate misinterpretation of historical events. My belief was that those who accused church leaders with deception were deceivers themselves; they twisted words and took remarks out of context. But as I read more church history my list grew, and at some point it occurred to me that a pattern of institutionalized deception had been established by Joseph Smith. Subsequent church leaders, including those who serve currently, followed Smith’s example of lying to protect the church. The growing evidence pointed to a standard practice.
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….
D. Michael Quinn called the use of deception by LDS church leaders, “theocratic ethics.” Smith lied to protect himself or the church; which was an extension of himself. Dan Vogel in his excellent work, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, described Smith’s viewpoint; he was a pious deceiver. Smith used deception if in his mind; it resulted in a good outcome. Smith had Moroni, an ancient American prophet and custodian of the gold plates declare, “And whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good is of me; for good cometh of none save it be of me. Translation: if deception was necessary to do good, or bring a soul to Christ, then it was worth it, as long as God approves. Smith believed he knew when God approved of lying.
Smith believed God also approved of murder if it was for a good cause. He wrote in the Book of Mormon that Nephi was inspired by God to deceive and capture a servant; and then murder another man in order to secure an ancient historical record on brass plates. And in Missouri, Smith and his counselor Sidney Rigdon threatened to kill Mormon’s who disagreed with Smith’s policies and initiatives . . . .
And this from Mormon Wiki:
One Mormon blogger writes, “When I was a missionary, the church’s official Missionary Guide instructed missionaries to avoid providing direct answers or solutions to investigators’ questions or concerns.” On his mission, he “fell back on rhetorical tricks or even outright denials.”….
Lying for the Lord refers to the practice of lying to protect the image of and belief in the Mormon religion, a practice which Mormonism itself fosters in various ways. From Joseph Smith’s denial of having more than one wife, to polygamous Mormon missionaries telling European investigators that reports about polygamy in Utah were lies put out by “anti-Mormons” and disgruntled ex-members, …. Mormonism’s history seems replete with examples of lying. Common members see such examples as situations where lying is justified. For the Mormon, loyalty and the welfare of the church are more important than the principle of honesty, and plausible denials and deception by omission are warranted by an opportunity to have the Mormon organization seen in the best possible light. This is part of the larger package of things that lead many to describe Mormonism as a cult. “Lying for the lord” is part of Mormonism’s larger deceptive mainstreaming tactics, and conversion numbers would drastically lower if important Mormon beliefs were fully disclosed to investigators.
Former Mormon missionary Loren Franck has listed lies he told in his work:
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
It’s not hard to understand why people come to lie for the Lord given the training given young Mormon missionaries. Writes Josh Kron of the NY Times:
An army of 52,000 young Mormons proselytize around the world, from Boise, Idaho, to Mozambique, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In modern-day Mormon culture, men are expected to take up evangelism on their 19th birthday and serve for two years; less commonly, women enlist when they turn 21. Missionary work is not mandatory, but it is popular.
It is certainly a time of sacrifice. Missionaries are slingshot into an intensive, airtight and sometimes lonely schedule of prayer, Scripture study and door-to-door proselytizing six days a week, 52 weeks a year. They are to abstain from virtually every earthly pleasure – not just the usual temptations prohibited under Mormonism, like premarital sex, alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea, but also magazines, television and music not sanctioned by the church. They can call home two days a year, on Christmas and Mother’s Day. (When suicide bombings ripped through Kampala during the 2010 World Cup, killing more than 70 people, including an American citizen, the missionaries still were not allowed a call.) E-mailing, through a secure Internet server, is for Mondays.
When you read about the Orwellian world of Mormon training and acceptance of untruths, it becomes less surprising that the religion has spawned so many break away sects that have engaged in often appalling and criminal behavior from the Mountain Meadows massacre to Warren Jeffs. So much so that the the attorneys general of Utah and Arizona last year even published a booklet entitled The Primer: A Guidebook for Law Enforcement and Human Services Agencies Who Offer Assistance to Fundamentalist Mormon Families. It noted that “a recent, informal survey indicated there are approximately 38,000 people (residing primarily in the Rocky Mountain region) who consider themselves to be Fundamentalist Mormons.”
Romney learned how to “lie for the Lord.” Now he’s he’s lying for the presidency. And no sane description of religious tolerance says that the media or the public should put up with it.