10/26/2012 04:19 pm ET Updated Dec 26, 2012

Shape Shifter: The Four Mitt Romneys

There are four Mitt Romneys. There's the governor, the primary candidate, the presidential candidate (also known as the Trojan horse or the stealth candidate), and the beauty pageant contestant.

We saw the beauty pageant contestant (in the immortal words of the New York Times) last night in the third presidential debate.

Mitt the beauty pageant contestant voices goofy platitudes like: "We want a peaceful planet." He follows up with vacuous ("air-headed") comments like: "Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea." Oops! He forgot to look at a map. If he had looked at a map, like the ones our third-grade teacher used to show us, he would have realized that Iran touches water on two borders, and shares absolutely no border with Syria at all. It was hair-raising to watch. If this nonsensical comment is any signal as to Mitt Romney's foreign policy awareness -- it is truly scary. He is a man who hopes to someday hold his finger over the "nuke" button.

His comment about how the Soviet Union is our greatest adversary is a glowing example of Mitt the beauty contestant. Now, Romney has promised to raise our bloated $700 billion military budget by another $300 billion (to more than $1 trillion a year for military and homeland security!). Mitt the beauty contestant says: "We want people to be able to enjoy their lives and know they're going to have a bright and prosperous future and not be at war." Really? He is going to spend $1 trillion a year on a war machine, but he's not going to use it? I don't buy it. Don't worry. Mitt Romney the beauty contestant won't get into trouble, so long as he duct-tapes his mouth.

Mitt the governor, who invented Obamacare (aka "Romneycare"), glowed with pride at this shining moment in his political career. To this day, it remains an extraordinary achievement: Romneycare is exceptionally popular among state residents. A whopping 84% of Massachusetts residents are happy and would not go back to the old system if given the chance. Nearly every Massachusetts citizen now has health coverage; a recent study showed that 98.1% of adults and 99.8% of children now have medical insurance. This is by far the highest rate in the nation. Surprisingly, 76% of all businesses in Massachusetts now offer medical insurance to their employees. The national rate remains at 60%. Best of all, last year the additional cost to the state was only 1.2% of its annual budget.

Yet, Mitt the primary candidate, reaching across the aisles to the extreme right wing of his party, has vowed to repeal Obamacare on his first day in office. Incomprehensibly, Mitt the primary candidate apparently now thinks this stunning achievement is a failure, a dark blotch on the map of his career.

At first, Mitt the presidential candidate said his "47%" comment -- which made him sound like a smug, out-of-touch plutocrat -- was misunderstood. It was "not elegantly stated," he said. Later, he said it was: "just completely wrong." He had a hard time digging himself out of that hole. Mitt now says he cares deeply about the suffering of the average American. Yet he is the first presidential candidate in history to have millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts, who owns tax shelters in the Cayman islands, who shipped jobs off to China (as head of Bain Capital), who pays a measly 12-14% income tax, and took a $77,000 tax credit on his wife's $250,000 dancing horse. How could he possibly understand the common man or woman? He doesn't even live on the same planet.

Mitt the presidential candidate reminds me of President George Bush, Sr. Once, while campaigning for president, Bush walked through a supermarket. Suddenly, he spotted a laser barcode scanner at the cash register. "What's that?" he exclaimed with surprise and excitement. Bush -- the child of a wealthy, privileged family -- apparently had never seen a barcode scanner! Forgive me, but how could Romney have the audacity to claim that he knows how a struggling single mom feels, or a father who has been unemployed for a year and isn't sure he'll have enough money to buy food for his family? Oh, I forgot. These are the freeloaders Romney was referring to in his famous "47%."

Mitt the presidential candidate lives in a time warp -- anywhere from 12 to 100 years in the past -- but he doesn't seem to know it. This odd time lapse drew President Obama's biting remark last night about our military's lack of horses, bayonets, and the advent of "these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."

What worries me most about Mitt the presidential candidate is that he is a bellicose saber rattler who loves a good fight. I've had my fill of wars for at least the next three hundred years. Sorry, I don't believe that Mitt will spend $1 trillion a year on military force and then not use it, especially with his adversarial and provocative comments about our major trading partners and potential allies like China. The problem with Mitt is: he shoots off his mouth first, and then thinks later. This is a very dangerous man who, like his predecessor George W. Bush, is likely to bring another war upon us.

I want to write Mitt a letter. I'll say: Dear Mitt, We already have 14 aircraft carriers. The next strongest nation in the world only has two. Why do you want to spend more money building up our military strength? Let's take the peace dividend and invest it to create jobs at home. I know you believe in peace through strength, peace through bluster and saber-rattling. But why not try peace through peace? No one has ever ended violence with violence. Each new act of violence feeds the cycle; it creates a wave of hatred and a blowback of vengeance. Every time we drop a bomb and kill an innocent woman or child, we create 10 new terrorists. You cannot create peace through war. Here's the truth: We will never have Homeland Security until we realize that the whole world is our homeland.

President Obama seems to comprehend this subtle truth in a way that blustery Mitt does not. Obama shows restraint and a reluctance to resort to violence as long a he has a better option, as in the case of harsh sanctions against Iran. This is why he won the Nobel Peace Prize: for redefining American foreign policy.

Like Sir Isaac Newton (who is credited with inventing calculus), Mitt the presidential candidate has invented a new form of math. It's called "trickle-down fairy dust." But unlike Sir Isaac, Mitt's math doesn't add up. While escalating our military spending into the stratosphere, Mitt claims that he can issue tax breaks, reduce the deficit, and balance the budget all at the same time, as if by magic. Romney's predecessor, President George W. Bush, put two wars on a credit card. He believed that it was the divine destiny of the United States to be the world's policeman. At the same time he built up the military to its highest level since World War II, he gave rich people their biggest tax break in decades -- saddling the nation with an additional $4 trillion worth of national debt.

Mitt the presidential candidate said he wanted to turn Medicare into a voucher program. He chose as his running mate Paul Ryan, one of the idea's prime architects. A sublime moment came in the first debate when Mitt said he wanted to save Medicare. Save Medicare? I felt like somebody slapped me across the face with a cold fish. President Obama's eyes got wide and he blinked too. This was a stunning about-face, a brash lie of such monumental scale that it took my breath away. No wonder President Obama was in shock during the first debate. So was I.

By the time the vice presidential debate rolled around, and the second presidential debate, the Obama team knew what to expect. Every time their opponent changed colors, or blurted out a big, fat lie, they confronted him on it. It was a winning strategy. Up until that point, I was starting to get cynical. But now I am hopeful. I believe that maybe lies and liars don't win after all. Perhaps I am wrong. Only the future will tell.

Mitt Romney has finally decided that women are important. He needs them to win. So he's softening or lying about his previous beliefs and policies. In the presidential debate last night, I wanted to shout at the TV. Mitt said he's in favor of equal rights for women in the Middle East. But what about equal rights for women in United States?

The only possible conclusion is: Mitt Romney is a shape shifter. He changes his beliefs and campaign promises as quickly as a chameleon changes its colors. He trades in old campaign slogans faster than a gambler pawns his wedding ring for a stack of poker chips. As the need arises, he presents us with the face of the governor, the primary candidate, the presidential candidate, and the beauty contestant. Like the shifting sands of the Kalahari, Mitt Romney changes faces so quickly, so profoundly that many people now refer to him as the Trojan horse or the stealth candidate. Some reporters say: "You never know when he's going to shake the Etch-A-Sketch."

At the end of the day the question is: Do we want a president who is not perfect but who has our best interests at heart? Or do you want to Mitt the shape shifter for president? Do we want a president who looks into the mirror each morning and asks: What do I believe today? Let's check the polls.

Unless we wrestle Mitt Romney to the mat on his "flavor of the day" campaign strategy, there's a chance that maybe he's going to get away with it.

Drum roll, please.

Will the real Mitt Romney please stand up?