It’s a given: Mitt Romney has issues with the truth. I think it’s cultural. People in business learn to lie, and in the big-stakes, big-money worlds of consulting and private equity, the truth isn’t all that valuable.
In my investment banking days, one colleague told me that I should never say “I don’t know” when asked a question. That made me look weak. Always act like you know what you’re doing and say something One of my bosses said that I should focus on marketing stocks. If there wasn’t new information to get people excited, just invent something! A third boss said that no one can get ahead in business until they learn to lie. It may be worse in finance than other businesses, but Dilbert’s pointy-headed boss is too familiar to too many of us.
It’s not like these are bad people, they are just playing the game. Mitt Romney doesn’t seem like a guy who would lie to his wife or kids, but he would tell shareholders what they needed to hear for them to be happy, whether or not it was the truth. Ditto for customers and employees. To him, it’s just marketing. It’s spin. It’s a negotiation. As long as the ends are pure (and Romney at least thinks that private equity has pure ends), well then, the means are just tactics.
I can’t quite figure out why Romney is running so hard for president. He has neither a hard-felt political passion, nor does he seem to have the sort of emotional baggage that propelled Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama to run. Because Romney has no passion, he’s willing to say whatever it takes to win. And if that means being for everything before he was against it, which was before he was for it, well then, so be it.
Obviously, politicians lie, too, but they lie in a different way because they know they’ll be called on the worst of it. Romney’s business experience cuts against him another way. As an alpha male among alpha males, he’s used to people making him look good. His staff was there to flatter him, find research that supported whatever it was he wanted to say, and to agree with him even when he was very wrong. Waylon Smithers isn’t as much of a caricature as he sometimes seems.
Look, we all lie, or fabricate, or exaggerate every now and again. That’s human nature. Romney’s lies are so jarring because they are suited to business, not politics. He’s playing a different game now.