10/10/2012 12:18 pm ET

Mitt Romney, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and the Neighborhood of Make Believe

Although it seems unfair to associate Mitt Romney with Mister Rogers -- given Mitt Romney's now stated aversion to government spending on PBS and educational public television -- I couldn't help but be drawn back to childhood memories as I watched the first presidential debate.

There was a special program within the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood television show called the 'Neighborhood of Make Believe.'

You may remember it.

In the context of the show it was a special place that fired up the imagination of children, addressed issues of cooperation, conflict, and community, and sensitively portrayed emotions and ethics as they related both to interpersonal relationships and individual experience.

It was also simply a place of fun and spontaneity, a little zany -- a place of freedom and individuality and offbeat creativity where the mind could wander and the spirit play. A place to which kids would naturally be drawn and where they'd feel safe and at home.

Sadly, Mitt Romney seems to have fallen down the rabbit hole of a different kind of neighborhood of make believe.

Not the edifying one of Mister Rogers and PBS -- which Mitt Romney would gut for the sake of cutting taxes for the wealthy or keeping them so low as to increase the difficulties middle class and working class Americans have making ends meet, putting food on the table, paying for housing, and securing healthcare.

Not one concerned with education and expanding the human imagination and making America a country where all children and young adults have access to education.

But one that is more prosaically and predictably the make believe of dishonesty and disingenuousness.

Mitt Romney called for an end to the Affordable Care Act insisting that the states should each find their own way to make healthcare affordable and accessible to more Americans.

But this claim lacks credibility. Romney knows that very few states have the political will to do so and that tens of millions of Americans would be left uninsured or underinsured if the Affordable Care Act is repealed and healthcare is left to the states.

Romney's heart and his mind are not with the tens of millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans but with the obstructionist Republican ideologues that have turned their back on a piece of legislation -- the Affordable Care Act -- that was modeled on plans developed by the conservative Heritage Foundation, not exactly a paragon of liberalism and big government excess.

Romney spoke about his purportedly deep concern for education but neglected to mention his desire to cut Pell Grants and his lack of budgeting for substantive increases in funding for community colleges, state colleges and universities to enable economically disadvantaged young Americans who want to go to college to receive the education that will help them realize their potential and contribute to American society.

When campaigning Mitt Romney was asked how he would lower tuition to make college more accessible.

He didn't have a good answer.

He replied, 'Shop around.'

He has called for the American Opportunity Tax credit, which helps fund college tuition costs, to be ended.

Paul Ryan's budget calls for increasing the interest rates on student loans which obviously won't be helpful to students and will only make it even harder for them to afford tuition.

Mitt Romney's policies threaten education in the United States; they do not strengthen it.

Mitt Romney lamented the massive number of Americans on food stamps. But he didn't mention that food stamps and similar essential social safety nets that provide a lifeline to the most economically disadvantaged Americans have been and are under relentless assault from Republicans.

If Romney really cared about the poor and economically vulnerable generally he would offer a far more comprehensive and detailed plan to reduce poverty and protect the well being of the most economically disadvantaged Americans.

He has offered no such thing.

Mitt Romney was charismatic at the first presidential debate.

But he wasn't honest.

He distorted his record and Obama's as well. He was deceptive in how he portrayed his healthcare plans and his tax plans which overwhelmingly favor the very rich despite his denials and he made extravagant and irresponsible promises that he cannot keep.

He talked as though he's a moderate Republican of the kind that used to exist in reasonable numbers, did honor to conservatism, and which has sadly now gone the way of the dodo; all but extinct as a movement within the Republican party.

Romney's not about to resurrect it with one debate performance.

He is creating its shadow, using words to conjure images and feelings that create the illusion of a moderate form of conservatism that has no real backing within the power structure of the Republican Party and amongst Republican politicians.

For over a year he has appealed to the radical wing of the Republican Party which has turned conservatism not into a philosophy of pragmatic governance dedicated to the well being and rights of all Americans but a philosophy of intransigence, hyperbolic self-righteousness, self-defeating do nothing anti-government dogmatism, and governing for the sake of a narrow and exclusive upper class elite which neither understands nor cares to address the profound challenges the average American faces.

Honesty is the most fundamental prerequisite for being president.

It is the principle from which so many other fundamental ethical values radiate.

All the charisma in the world and all the "moderation" which Romney presented at the debate amount to little if Romney lacks integrity and if the American people cannot trust him.

When Mister Rogers spoke to the Senate in 1969 in defense of PBS in the face of proposed cuts to its budget he said, "One of the first things that a child learns in a healthy family is trust..."

As for a healthy family, so too for our nation.

Before he rushes to pull the plug on PBS and deny American children educational television it seems that Mitt Romney needs to spend a few good hours with Mister Rogers, whose humility, plain spoken honesty, wisdom, and integrity could teach him some valuable lessons.

Until he internalizes them the only neighborhood of make believe that Americans should tune in to is that of PBS while we still can, and not the hocus pocus illusions of Mitt Romney and his bag of manipulative magic tricks.