Mitt Romney cannot tell the truth. It isn't that he won't. It is that he cannot. He cannot because he is afraid of what it might mean and the damage it might do.
One of the most revealing passages in The Real Romney is the author's description of how young Mitt Romney took the demise of his father's campaign for President after George Romney claimed he had been "brainwashed" by the generals and diplomats into believing war in Vietnam was justified.
Mitt did not view the "brainwash" footage that caused his father such trouble until it was shown to him thirty-nine years later. But his sister Jane said the episode had a lasting impact on her brother. "The brainwash thing -- has that affected us? You bet. Mitt is naturally a diplomat, but I think that made him more so. He's not going to put himself out on a limb. He's more cautious, more scripted."
Mitt Romney took the wrong lesson from his father's disastrous campaign. He assumed George Romney's honesty is what cost him a shot at the White House. But it wasn't the elder Romney's honesty at all. People did not take kindly to the idea that the future leader of the free world, fraught as it was with Commies in the corners, was weak enough to let himself be brainwashed. Rick Perlstein's brilliant Rolling Stone article in January is required reading on this. Just a tease for you here:
When people call his son the "Rombot," think about that: Mitt learned at an impressionable age that in politics, authenticity kills. Heeding the lesson of his father's fall, he became a virtual parody of an inauthentic politician. In 1994 he ran for senate to Ted Kennedy's left on gay rights; as governor, of course, he installed the dreaded individual mandate into Massachusetts' healthcare system. Then he raced to the right to run for president.
He's still inauthentic – but with, I think, an exception. Every time he opens his mouth on the subject of capitalism, he says what he sincerely believes, which happens to fit neatly with present-day Republican ideology: that rich people deserve every penny they have, and if people complain about anything rich people do, it's only because they're envious.
In the video at the top there's another example of how Romney reacts to situations, especially when he's put on the spot. Raw Story reports:
The former Massachusetts also recently suggested during a Republican presidential debate that he had not taken any more money from the federal government for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games than previous games.
Again, the 2002 video recorded by Democratic operatives tells a different story.
“We actually received over $410 million from the federal government for the Olympic games,” Romney boasted. “That is a huge increase over anything ever done before and we did that by going after every agency of government.”
At one point, he even explained how one of his colleagues managed to get Olympic funding from the Department of Education.
So here we have an outright lie in 2011, but it's been justified in Mr. Romney's mind by the need in 2002. We can't have the country embarrassed by corruption inside the US Olympic committee, especially when there are profits to be made. So Mitt Romney did what he had already done at Bain Capital: He put together corporate investors, sold the deal, mixed in some federal funds and made it work. And it did work. It was a dirty process along the way, sparking condemnation from Senator John McCain and other Republicans who weren't thrilled with Romney's use of earmarks -- something he now adamantly opposes -- as funding for the 2002 games.
But rather than actually stand and defend his fundraising efforts, he denied them when confronted because they appeared to go against current hard-line conservative values, and Mitt Romney had no intention of letting the truth get in the way of his belief that he, and he alone, possessed the skills and values to win the Republican nomination and ultimately, the White House.
A lie was more convenient. No one would remember how the 2002 Olympics were funded all these years later, right?
Romney internalized the wrong lesson from his father's failure and as a result, he absolutely cannot tell the truth no matter what because he fears the truth will cause him to fail, and failure is not an acceptable outcome. This is why, by the way, he has no problem using the politics of destruction on his rivals. It's always better to destroy them than to be accountable for one's own decisions. This is a character flaw and it's a big one.
The Bain Capital Years
In the world of "private equity", Romney was steering the boat and had full control of the rudder with the blessing of his billionaires. Romney had to raise the first round of capital for his first venture on his own, with little help from the existing Bain & Co. group. It was the combination of capital investment combined with Romney's top-down business takeovers that launched Bain Capital's enormous success. But first he had to court the billionaires and convince them to take a risk on him. Those billionaires made their investments because Romney's work and reputation had built Bain Capital into a formidable merger and acquisition business. If their truth is strictly defined by profits on a balance sheet, their balance sheets looked terrific when Romney worked his magic with Bain deals. So terrific, in fact, that the Koch brothers jumped into bed with Bain, buying Bain's 2002 stake in Georgia-Pacific's international distribution subsidiary in order to take it private in 2006 (post-Romney, or perhaps not).
No billionaire really cared, for example, that a big chunk of his first round of capital came from El Salvadoran billionaire Eduardo Poma back in 1984. 1984 was the year of the beginning of some progress toward a peaceful resolution of El Salvador's civil war. As Duarte progressed toward basic reforms like reasonable tax reform, the right-wing party (ARENA) opposed them strongly. Eduardo's brother Ricardo had been kidnapped and killed by the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP) in 1977, an act which did not endear the oligarchs to any kind of populist realignment, even a moderate one. It goes without saying that Mitt Romney's offer of a safe stash of big money in United States' investments had to be a safe harbor for the Poma family, and the payoff proved their confidence was well-placed. The first Bain Capital investors got a piece of the Accuride, Staples, Key Airlines and Medivision deals. Accuride alone returned $121 million on an investment of $5 million.
Romney's success with those investments led to a line of billionaires wanting a piece of the action. According to The Real Romney, they had to turn away investors for their second fund.
Bain Capital had become a hot property. So much money poured into Romney's second investment fund that the firm had to turn away investors. Romney set out to raise $80 million and received offers totalling $150 million. The partners settled on $105 million, half of it from wealthy customers of a New York bank.
Mitt Romney can talk and talk about how he left Bain Capital in 1999 and not 2002, and how he turned away from Bain in order to "rescue" the 2002 Olympics, but here's a fact: Billionaires don't place money for investment unless they trust the investment advisor at the top of the letterhead. It's really that simple. You don't invest in Bain; you're investing with Mitt. And it's Mitt's deals you want to be in. It doesn't matter what was filed with the SEC and what wasn't. You know your money is safe with Mitt, that he's got the right eye on the right businesses, and so you let him have at your millions so you can be a bigger billionaire.
This works really well in the financial halls of fame but not so much in the political arena, which is where Mitt Romney is right now. The problem is, he doesn't see it. He can't see it. A TPM reader explains:
I’ve had enough contact with the PE guys to know they particularly see themselves in a heroic light — as the saviors of capitalism from the quasi-socialist clutches of entrenched management, the unions, outside pressure groups, and the other “stakeholders” of the big public corporations (the PE guys really detest that concept).
What’s more, they’re usually insulated enough from normal human reality that they can assume all “reasonable” people see things the same way. And when you’ve got as much money to spend on campaign contributions, endowed chairs, wingnut welfare, etc. as they do, an awful lot of people are going to see things your way, or at least tell you that they do.
Point is, Mitt is not only congenitally blind to the optics of all this, he also appears — to quote Sonny from the Godfather — to be taking it very, very personally. That’s the only way I can explain his incredibly bizarre decision to spend the entire afternoon on TV talking about it, which is about the best way imaginable to keep the feeding frenzy going.
Because Mitt is used to being trusted by his billionaires, you see. Mitt is used to being a hero. To criticize him for heroism, even when the pathway to success wasn't particularly pure is simply wrong, at least in Mitt's view. Again, from The Real Romney, a glimpse at Mitt's world view from 2008:
"Everything could always be tweaked, reshaped, fixed, addressed," said one former aide, describing Romney's outlook. "It was foreign to him on policy issues that core principles mattered -- that somebody would go back and say, 'Well, three years ago you said this.'" The perception of expedience, along with lingering bigotry against Mormonism, helped bury his hopes.
And this, written to his father after the collapse of George Romney's campaign, sums it all up quite well:
The rest of our system I know pretty well -- only one thing I can't understand: how can the American public like such muttonheads?
This is the key to why he will not tell the truth and why he cannot tell the truth. He doesn't see it as particularly relevant because in his view, the only thing that matters is that he succeeded at turning handsome profits for his investors, can declare himself a success and expects everyone else to view him through that lens. If they don't see it that way, well, they're just "muttonheads." If policy currents shift, well, it can be tweaked, fixed, reshaped, Etch-a-Sketched. He cannot understand how we, the ordinary people who sign the back of our paychecks, can object to the inevitable "creative destruction" which he and his billionaires believe must take place in order to create a more prosperous nation for his next round of investment opportunities. Make no mistake about it. The only truth he told in that 2002 video is this: "The money is in Washington." Muttonheads be damned.
It is beyond his ability to comprehend, because the only thing he comprehends is his "rightness." We're the muttonheads; he's the guy who has the answers. This, combined with his internalization of the absolute wrong message of his father's campaign, leaves a weak, flailing candidate who does not measure up to the standard of leadership necessary to be President.
I can almost hear Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich giggling in the hallway.