Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mitt Romney, Hedge Manager and Liar-in-Chief

by Blueberry T

To understand Mitt Romney, I've come to realize that his modus operandi is as a “hedge manager” -  by which I mean that he is always hedging his bets about everything, so that he can claim all sides of an issue.  He does this in several ways, all closely inter-related.   

  • He hedges by taking steps to leave his options open, so that he can choose whichever one is convenient at any point in time.  Think: Massachusetts residency, Bain Capital departure date.
  • Another hedging technique is to have so many shades and nuances in his positions and language that it is at best confusing, at worst impossible, to discern what he really stands for.  This is what he is currently doing on health care and taxes. 
  • Closely related, he exploits the fact that many of these issues are complicated and often technically challenging, so that the average voter cannot independently analyze them; this allows him to invent whatever message is most convenient for the audience about the implications of what he is saying, or to deny the interpretations of others (even independent experts) who try to analyze his proposals. 
  • As everybody knows, he shamelessly flip-flops, taking whatever position is most expedient at the moment, while denying that there is any inconsistency with his earlier position(s).   Here is the NYTimes on “Multiple Choice Romney.”  
  • I have saved the biggest and most important for last.  Surprise: he also lies constantly and shamelessly; this is undeniable and well documented.  Here is just the latest of Steve Benen’s excellent series, “Chronicling Mitt’s Mendacity, Vol. XXXVII”*  Scroll down to the bottom of the article for links to hundreds of earlier lies.  Whether this chronic lying is pathological, I will leave for others to judge.
This level of inconsistency and dishonesty from a presidential candidate is unprecedented.  It means that nothing he says can be taken at face value.  (Yet he says “trust me.”) It is a staggering injustice to voters and to our democracy that such fudging and lying is allowed from our candidates, let alone protected.  

As others have pointed out, his propensity to lie may reflect his interpretation of Mormon “lying for the Lord.”  Numerous ex-Mormons have made clear that, “Every Mormon grows up with the idea that it’s OK to lie if it’s for a higher cause.”  Here (and here) is more on the topic (most of meat in Part 2).    
The “higher cause” is for Romney to “fulfill his destiny…and for that to happen, he’s got to do politics,” according to none other than Ann Romney.  This discussion of Mitt’s “destiny” logically leads to the WhiteHorse Prophecy, about which I prophesize that no one will dare to ask Romney because doing so would be “politically incorrect.”   It is exactly the nature of this prophecy, though, that makes it not only fair game but an essential topic for the media to address – because the prophecy specifically has to do with the Mormon Church’s involvement with our government, where church and state are supposed to be separate.  Here is more information on what the Romneys may see as Mitt’s destiny.  

One more thing about “lying for the Lord.”  In my opinion, Romney’s biggest take-away from his father’s failed presidential bid was that his father lost because he was honest.  He told the truth, and he failed.  He didn’t “lie for the Lord,” so he didn’t fulfill “destiny” or the prophecy.   I believe that one lesson – perhaps THE lesson -  that Mitt learned from his father’s campaign was that honesty is not the best policy.  George Romney’s honesty about Vietnam propaganda and his frank comment about “brainwashing” were fatal to the campaign.  Mitt also rejected his father’s example of openness, famously including the release of 12 years of tax returns because “one year could be a  fluke, done for show.”  Maybe the real reason Mitt writes “Dad” on a paper at each debate (if indeed he does so) is to remind himself that honesty didn’t work for his Dad, and so it helps him rationalize “lying for the Lord.”   My theory.     

Now, let me get back to “hedging” before I delve into fudging, flip-flopping and flat-out lying. ;-)   

I got to thinking about how Romney is often hedging, after talking with a friend who reviewed some of the evidence from the lawsuit challenging Romney’s residency when he ran for Governor of Massachusetts in 2002.  There was substantial documentary evidence that the plaintiffs’ claims were correct, most importantly the fact that Romney had filed his taxes as a Utah resident, and filed a non-resident tax return in Massachusetts.  The evidence also included a sworn statement from a Utah reporter, testifying that Romney told her that Utah was his primary residence for tax purposes.  However, once back in Massachusetts, Romney publicly lied about this for months, before admitting under oath that he “retroactively” amended his tax returns to show Massachusetts residency.  He (with his Harvard Law degree) claimed, under oath, that he had not read the tax returns that he had signed under pains and penalties of perjury.  (The form says this right above the signature line.)  Daily Kos covered this story in detail, and this report includes Rachel Maddow’s analysis of his blatant lie about his tax returns.  (But he still says, “trust me.”)   

Of course, there were other, conflicting pieces of evidence and opposing legal arguments that supported Romney’s claim that he never abandoned Massachusetts as his primary residence.  In my opinion, this appeared deliberate; it seemed that he had calculated all along that he wanted to be able to argue either side of the question.  Ironically, a state attorney in the residency case told my friend that the pivotal moment in the hearing took place over a rather trivial point, when the opposing attorney tried to use Mitt’s charitable donations to the United Way of Salt Lake City as proof that he had severed his Massachusetts connections, but Romney showed that several donees were Massachusetts organizations.  He also said that he had returned to Massachusetts several times on Bain business.  (More on that later.)  These points, which seem rather trivial compared to the tax returns and witness’s testimony, swayed the Election Commission’s decision in his favor. 

To me, the key point was that Romney deliberately played it both ways regarding his residence.  He knew that he wanted to use the Olympics as a stepping stone toward fulfilling his “destiny” of building a political career, eventually aimed toward the Presidency.  After his 1994 bid for the Senate had failed, Romney’s personal master plan was now to run for Governor – but Governor of which state, Utah or Massachusetts?  He didn’t know yet, so he set the stage to choose whichever one seemed most possible and politically expedient, once the Olympics were over.  I suspect that he was originally leaning toward Utah, and thus filed taxes showing that Utah was his primary residence and a “non-resident” Massachusetts return.  But, my sense is that by 2002, he realized that the Huntsman family (and possibly others) would not step aside to allow him to run in Utah.  So, he had to go back to Massachusetts, where Jane Swift, the Republican Acting Governor, was considered likely to lose.  He probably also figured that it would burnish his credentials as “bipartisan” and “effective” to be a Republican Governor in a “blue state.”  So, he rode back to Massachusetts on his high horse, summarily dismissed Swift, and took over the Republican Party.   He miscalculated how far to the right the Republican Party would shift in just a few years, making his role in Massachusetts more of a political liability than he expected, and forcing him to distance himself from his own record with the GOP base.   

In the big picture, the message that I take from this is that this how Romney rolls.  He is always hedging his bets, so that he can argue both sides of an argument, or choose whichever position benefits him at the time.  And when that doesn’t work, he flat-out lies.  Here are some other instances of Romney fudging, hedging, flip-flopping, lying, any of ‘em, all of ‘em:

Where he is on the political spectrum: 
  • Independent:  “Look, I was an independent under Reagan-Bush. I'm not trying to return to Reagan-Bush."  
  • Moderate/Progressive:  “I think people recognize that I’m not a partisan Republican, that I’m someone who is moderate, and that my views are progressive.” 
  • Severely Conservative:  “I was a severely conservative Republican governor.”  
  • Born Again Moderate”:  WaPo, NYTimes and Politico on Mitt's shift to a more moderate stance.    Here is classic Bill Clinton on the return of “old moderate Mitt.”  
This video highlights “moderate Mitt” on abortion; timetables for troop withdrawals; climate change; stimulus package; TARP bailouts; Second Amendment/gun control; immigration reform; and health insurance reform (“I like mandates”).  As Bill Clinton brilliantly pointed out, this guy suddenly showed up at the debate recently, after being MIA for the past several years. 

Romney has taken so many positions on abortion that this issue makes a great example of how he operates.  Originally, he was pro-choice.  Back in the 1994 Senate campaign, he said he would protect a woman’s right to choose, “and you will not see me wavering on that.”  He cited his cousin’s tragic death from a botched abortion and his mother’s commitment to safe, legal abortions.  

In 2002, he said his personal position on abortion was pro-life, but that he would not allow that to interfere with his role as governor in upholding the law of the land.  Here is a video that summarizes his position on abortion as stated during the 1994 Senate campaign and the 2002 gubernatorial campaign.  

But now, “moderate Mitt” says that there is nothing that he intends to change in current law regarding abortion, although his campaign walked back his comments the same day.  Of course, he previously said, "I will immediately defund Planned Parenthood" and vowed to be a “pro-life president  More on the dizzying flip-flops. 

I think "Mitt the hedge manager” shifts his position to deliberately confuse voters.  President Obama sought to point out that the recent change in Romney’s stance was an attempt to “cloud” the issue of where he stands.  Here is more on the abortion flip-flops and here is an interesting long read (from February, so it doesn’t have the latest developments) about Romney and the abortion issue, which focuses on the many nuances and surmised psychology of his shifting positions.  Here are two more recent reports on Romney’s “evolving” position on abortion.  Our reader HonestyinGov has pointed out this article from Salon and this long-read, in-depth article from Slate.  (Thanks, HIG!)  

I cannot leave Stericycle out of the abortion discussion, although most of the coverage does omit this.  It is apparently not a violation of Romney’s faith or morals to profit from abortion, just as it isn’t to profit from “harvesting” businesses, eliminating jobs and robbing people of their pensions.  Profiting from something you consider immoral may be acceptable on the planet Kolob, but here on Earth, his behavior does not pass any reasonable ethical test.  

Romney has said for months that he would lower the tax rate for each income bracket by 20%.  Despite his denial at the debate, his own website said so, even after the debate.  In fact, it still says so as I write this!  So, this goes far beyond “hedging.”  It’s just a flat-out lie, as Daily Kos points out here.  

He also says he’ll close tax loopholes and eliminate deductions, but won’t specify which.  Tax and budget experts say that you cannot make up the lost revenue from the rate cut by closing loopholes and deductions.  Here is a new piece from Bloomberg on how Romney's numbers don't add up and another on how eliminating deductions only accounts for 4% of the cost of his proposed tax cuts.  Earlier this year, he said his plan “can’t be scored” because of the lack of detail; that is deliberate hedging, so he could do just what he did during the debate: deny its implications.  Recently, he said he would allow up to $17,000 in deductions for all but the wealthy, who would have a lower number.  Right.  Also, did you notice how his “tax plan” seems to be a work in progress, with major changes and new elements coming out several times a week?  This is a classic moving target and obfuscation technique.  It leaves President Obama "trying to nail jello to the wall."   Here is an excellent timeline from Think Progress on Romney’s “evolving” tax plan.  

As Bill Clinton brilliantly pointed out, the real problem is “arithmetic.”  The numbers don’t add up, plain and simple, no matter how often Romney claims they do.  

Here's some more accurate arithmetic:

Bain tenure:  
His statements and documentation show that hedger Romney played it both ways regarding his tenure at Bain – now claiming that he was not actively involved after February 1999, but with ample evidence that investors and regulators were told that he was still actively involved after February 1999.  What is abundantly clear is that he and Bain deliberately hedged about his role, claiming on the one hand that he was not only still there but that he was solely responsible.   

But in the parallel universe in which he seems to also live, he “retroactively” left Bain in February 1999 and emphatically claims that he had no involvement after that date.  The reason?  So he won’t get tagged with the many politically unpalatable actions by Bain after that date. 

The Boston Globe broke the story about how Romney was at Bain for 3 years after he claimed to have left.   SEC documents showed that he was the “sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer and president” until 2002.  In Romney’s own sworn testimony in the aforementioned residency case, he stated that he returned to Boston on numerous occasions after February 1999 for board meetings and other Bain business.  Here is an accounting of the timeline and conflicting and false statements by Romney about his Bain departure.  MoveOn has asked the Department of Justice to investigate Mitt's statements about his tenure at Bain.

Interestingly, BuzzFeed reported that a similar fudging of dates occurred in the early 1990s, indicating that this was a deliberate, previously used tactic on Romney’s part, to absolve himself of responsibility for Bain’s unsavory business practices.  

HuffPo reported again this week on the more recent timeline story, this time in relation to the revelation about Bain profiting from tobacco sales, which one would think would be a moral issue to a Mormon who is forbidden from using tobacco.  (As noted above, one would be wrong to think that moral issues would interfere with Romney profiting, however.)  

And here is Rolling Stone's report on how Romney lied about the profitability of Bain while he was there. 
The key point is that Romney plays it both ways (with this and so many other issues) so he can claim responsibility for the successes, but not the failures.

Here are just a few of the many other topics on which Romney has flip-flopped:

Lobbying, getting money from Washington flip-flop

And for a little comic relief, here's a gem from Stephen Colbert on Romney's changing positions.  

Tax Returns:   Ironically, there is one topic on which Romney has actually not flip-flopped:  releasing his tax returns.  During the primaries, when asked whether he would follow his father’s example, his answer was “Maybe.”   (You’ll enjoy that video, “Dancing Around the Issues.”  He also gave a very fudgy answer about releasing them in April (tax season). 

Ann Romney said that “no more tax returns will be released” because they were attacked regarding the first release and giving more would only provide “ammunition.”  That was pretty telling.   Later, Romney invented a new reason for not doing so:  privacy about tithing.  Of course, his father did not seem to think this was a concern.  

As Rachel Maddow and others have pointed out, Romney's refusal to release his tax returns did not stop him from demanding that his opponents release theirs.  

Anyone with a brain can figure out that the real reason he won’t release his returns is that he is hiding something – likely more than one thing.  The question is – will voters give him a pass, or will we hold him accountable for his secrecy?  By the way, it is not just Democrats and liberals who have called for the release of the returns.  Here is an Obama Campaign video on the subject.  

Here is a brand-new article from Rolling Stone about Romney's taxes.  (I hope Rolling Stone wins a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of Romney's economic shell games.)  

BTW, if you enjoy seeing Romney taking every possible position on every possible issue, this site is for you.  And here is The Daily Beast, fantasizing about Romney actually saying what he means.   This was of course before the release of the 47% video, which is so damning because it reflects what Romney actually believes, when speaking “unfiltered” without the press around.

Bottom Line: Romney will say anything to get elected.  He has proven that he is untrustworthy, yet he continues to say "trust me."  Don't.   

I’ll end with the truest statement that the Romney campaign has ever made.  

*Here is a new "Chronicling Mitt's Mendacity," published after I finished this post.

UPDATE:  Here are links to a piece from Mother Jones and another from Now Public on Mitt Romney's investment in and profit-making from Stericycle.  This story relates to the timeline of Romney's departure from Bain, as the purchase of Stericycle by Bain took place in November 1999, ironically 9 months after the reported departure; yet Romney signed the papers to purchase Stericycle.  Hmmm.  

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