Politicians do have a way of showing their colors: Again and again, Nixon proved himself a schemer and sulker, and ultimately a paranoid personality; Clinton was brilliant, a schmoozer and a womanizer. Reagan, trained as an actor, was indeed a great communicator on the national stage.
And Mitt Romney, about whom most people knew little before this campaign season, seems to be showing himself as a man who won't spare truth (let alone Big Bird), for ambition.
The question of Mitt's character sprung forth front and center during the first Presidential debate of the 2012 election, held this past Wednesday.
Americans know that mendacity in the service of advancement is not a quality one wants in the leader of the single most powerful nation on earth.
So, two facts about the presidential debate are relevant:
1. Romney won, certainly in terms of charm and audience connection if not in terms of swaying undecided voters.
2. But to win, he dissimulated. That is, to get what he wanted, he did what in my childhood neighborhood, filled with Italian immigrants, would have earned a kid getting his mouth washed out with soap: Mitt looked you in the eye, albeit on camera, and said he didn't, when he did. And he hadn't, when he had.
"Virtually every time Mr. Romney spoke, he misrepresented the platform on which he and Paul Ryan are actually running," wrote the The NY Times opinion page the day after the debate.
What kind of president does a candidate who repeatedly twists the truth make? One who will
compromise a fundamental moral and ethical value for personal advancement -- and who will peddle convenient half-truths, falsehoods and if deemed useful, outright lies to the electorate.
- The Bush Administration swore up and down the halls of Congress that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction so threatening that the US must go to war. The WMD scare was a lie, under the banner of which President Bush sent our sons to war.
- The banking sector spun gold-threaded webs of lies about the housing mortgage industry and its ability to manage its own oversight in a deregulated environment. The consequences: the biggest economic decline since the Great Depression, during which millions of Americans lost homes, jobs, and for many the ability to maintain marriages, send kids to college and save for retirement.
- Catholic church leaders have lied, denied and procrastinated about patterns of sexually predatory behavior in the clergy.
However solid his personal religious values may be, on the public stage Mitt seems to morph to meet the moment, even if, while looking like a choir boy, he's twisting the truth.
Shakespeare had a thing or two to say about ambition. He gave it momentum, capturing the tendency of ambition to run away with you, describing in Macbeth the propulsive quality of "vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself."
During the debate, the nation got a good long peek at Mitt Romney's "vaulting ambition," and what he will do to feed it. It wasn't Romney's successful debate performance that left a mark. It was the stinging accusations that he stretched the truth beyond the usual political taffy-pull, well past the gray area, and into the terrain of falsehood to attain that success.
Millionaire Mitt has been stingy in this campaign in sharing important details, with his tax returns largely unreleased, and the details of basic domestic policies on still so vague as to be fantasy -- take a nip here, a tuck there, bring taxes down, down, down and live happily ever after, believe me, just trust me, I've been in business . He has told American voters precious little about who he really is. But during the debate, he gave all who cared to look a preview of his fairly high tolerance level for deception.
Observing Wednesday's wonky match-up, you really have to wonder what kind of stories Mitt will peddle to middle class Americans should he win the November election.