Even as Mitt and Ann Romney were going for a gold medal with their dressage horse, Rafalca, in the London Summer Olympics, Mitt already - in my opinion - had a gold medal wrapped up. Maybe not for horse dancing, but for mental gymnastics, and by that I mean lying. And not just for lying about his Bain Capital tenure, or being deliberately deceitful about Obama. I think a serious fundamental defect in Mitt has been on display for a long time.
In 1969, at age 19, I went on a Mormon mission just like Mitt. I eventually supervised about 200 other missionaries. A few years later, while living in Boston during my medical residency, I also attended the same church as Mitt and Ann Romney. Mitt had several high callings from the Mormon Church hierarchy during his time in Boston, eventually supervising the ecclesiastic affairs of about 4,000 Boston Mormons, much like a shepherd watching over his flock. Ann and my wife shared positions of responsibility in our local "ward," and in that capacity, Ann was in our home several times.
My wife and I both thought highly of Ann and liked her as a friend and a fellow church member. We liked Mitt as well, in that he was married to Ann. Mitt would offer a firm, robotic handshake on Sunday mornings, but he managed to make his "Good morning, it's great to see you," feel condescending and superficial.
Mitt was distinctly impersonal and it seemed his interest in me was only to the degree that I could further his career, which I couldn't - I had no pedigree to enhance the value of my Harvard appointment. He was nakedly ambitious and it was widely assumed by fellow church members that he would eventually run for president.
Mitt climbed quickly up the Mormon Church ladder, becoming a "Stake President" at a very young age, while simultaneously laying the foundation of his high-profile political career. Within the Mormon faithful his ascendancy to the doorstep of the presidency is viewed with almost as much anticipation as the Second Coming of Jesus. They look to a Mitt presidency as validation of their belief system and a golden opportunity to disseminate it worldwide. To them, Mitt embodies simultaneous theological and political triumph.
In contrast to Mitt, I have distanced myself from the Mormon Church after a personal battle between critical thinking and the origins and doctrines of the Church. Nonetheless, I still respect and admire its culture and social strengths and most of my friends and family are active Mormons. But I will not be warmly regarded for divulging anything unflattering about Mitt.
Mitt's interaction with his religion is indeed a legitimate issue for voters, but not for the reasons that have been raised by evangelicals. It is not because Mormonism is a non-Christian cult. Mitt's significant leadership positions in the Mormon Church evokes a much deeper connection to his religion than any other presidential candidate in modern history has had to their religion. Reaching this rather exalted state within the church is supposed to manifest not just one's extraordinary commitment to the church, but also to behavior and a value system beyond reproach. A Mormon Stake President is expected to live an exemplary, Christ-like life. Therefore, it is not only fair, but important to ask: does Mitt's behavior and value system meet those lofty expectations?
As a Bishop and a Stake President in the Mormon Church, Mitt would have interviewed thousands of church members to sign off on their worthiness to attend ceremonies in the ultra-sacred and exclusive Mormon temples. One of the key questions he would have been required to ask in those interviews would have been, "Are you honest in your dealings with your fellow man?" That question is intentionally vague, but is supposed to weed out people who tell lies, cheat on their taxes or are dishonest in business transactions. If Mitt would be unable to truthfully answer yes to that question of honesty, then he is not just someone who we would cynically write off as just another dishonest politician, but he would qualify also as an extraordinary hypocrite. It would be like John Edwards sitting in judgment on someone else's marital fidelity.
Even mainstream journalists have written about Mitt taking political lying and disdain for the facts to a new art form on campaign issues ranging from his tenure at Bain to blatantly dishonest ads about his opponents, first in the Republican primaries and now about President Obama. Michael Cohen of The Guardian UK typified many of these observations with the statement, "Romney is doing something very different and far more pernicious. Quite simply, the United States has never been witness to a presidential candidate, in modern American history, who lies as frequently, as flagrantly and as brazenly as Mitt Romney." Jonathan Chait, columnist for New York Magazine says Mitt is "Just making stuff up now."
Even worse, Mitt repeats the same lies over and over, even after they've been debunked. He appears completely unconcerned about being caught. That's a new level of mendacity. MSNBC's Steve Benen observed, "Romney gets away with it because he and his team realize contemporary political journalism isn't equipped to deal with a candidate who lies this much, about so many topics, so often." It reminds me of Linda Obst's book, "Hello, He Lied."
The most disturbing part of the story of Mitt, as a high school senior, assaulting a gay classmate and butchering his hair, is not the story itself - many responsible adults did regrettable things as teenagers - but it is the almost guaranteed lie last month that he couldn't remember ever having done it. His cohorts in crime remembered it vividly and later became deeply disturbed about taking part in it.
When Mitt was in Salt Lake City in 2002 managing the Olympics, he apparently told another whopper. During a traffic jam going to one of the Olympic events, Mitt was outraged at what he viewed as an incompetent volunteer directing traffic. As reported in the Salt Lake Tribune, during several articles that became a hot topic of conversation in Utah, the volunteer and several witnesses, including a captain in the Sheriff's department, said he let out a profanity-laced tirade directed at that volunteer that included dropping the "f-bomb." Use of that kind of language may not seem like much of an offense now, but for a high-ranking Mormon official to use that kind of language anywhere, let alone in a public venue, would be as shocking and disillusioning to the Mormon faithful as if it had been uttered by the prophet Joseph Smith himself. Never apologetic, Mitt vehemently denied that it ever happened.
But there is more dishonesty to Mitt than has been printed so far. There is a stark failure to live his religion, at least to the level of what should be expected of one who has risen to the upper echelons of Mormon ecclesiastical authority.
First, Mitt's recent statements about believing that marriage is "an enduring institution only between a man and a woman" is not what the Mormon Church believes. The history of the Mormon Church's practice of polygamy during the 19th century is well known (my great grandfather was a polygamist), slightly less well known is its official renouncement of the practice in 1890.
But what is not publicly known is that Mormon men can still marry, for "time and all eternity" in Mormon temples, sequentially more than one wife. If a Mormon male gets divorced or becomes a widower, he can marry another woman in the temple and be sealed for eternity to multiple wives. This option is available to males, Church leaders and laity alike, but not to women. Those subsequent "temple" marriages are considered as eternally binding as first marriages. In other words, the most sacred of Mormon rituals - holy, eternal marriage - implies that polygamy is still practiced in the highest stations of glory in heaven.
Mitt knows this very well. For obvious reasons he would be loathe to admit it publicly. But either he doesn't believe in this Mormon practice, which would contradict his high callings in the Church, which require strict adherence to its orthodoxy, or he doesn't believe what he proclaims publicly is his political position on who should be allowed to marry. Fundamental dishonesty in either case.
Second, contrary to pronouncements by many evangelicals that Mormons are not Christians, Mormons do consider the life and teachings of Jesus Christ to be the centerpiece of their spiritual beliefs. All of the purported teachings of Jesus described in the New Testament - the four Gospels, the Sermon on the Mount, etc. - are the heart and soul of Mormon theology and the standard by which they believe their behavior will be judged, from both a mortal and an eternal perspective.
Eschewing personal wealth and materialism and giving generously to the poor is a core tenet of New Testament theology. The hallmark of that tenet is Jesus comparing the difficulty of a rich man entering into the kingdom of God to the difficulty of a camel passing through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24). Everyone knows Mitt is extraordinarily wealthy, but, as is currently being heavily exploited by the Obama camp, he acquired at least some of his wealth in dubious ways. In fact, if the business model of Bain Capital were to be placed in a New Testament backdrop, the most obvious candidates to play the role of Bain would be the money changers in the temple that Jesus dispatched with an outburst of fury, or the robbers in the parable of the good Samaritan. How does one coldly order the calculated financial demise of thousands of workers, pocket hundreds of millions of dollars in the process and walk away "on water," à la Jesus Christ?
One has to ask: if Mitt was a genuine "Christ-like" spiritual icon in the Mormon Church, just how many million-dollar dressage show horses would Jesus own? How many multimillion dollar estates with car elevators would Jesus need for his vacations? In which of the Cayman Islands would Jesus shield his wealth? There is little evidence that, beyond paying his Mormon tithe of 10 percent, he spent any significant percentage of his hundreds of millions of dollars feeding the hungry, helping the poor, ministering to the sick or visiting those in prison. Mitt certainly seems to be at odds with Luke 12:48: "For everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required."
Third, Bain reportedly would not invest in companies profiting from alcohol and tobacco, which violate Mormon behavioral standards, but Romney apparently has no problem accepting tens of millions of dollars from people like casino magnates Steven Wynn and Sheldon Adelson, despite the fact that Mormonism considers gambling a sin. I'm sure Romney hasn't asked either billionaire if any of the money they donated might have also come from the proceeds of any of other sins that go on in Las Vegas casinos, any of which would also violate Mormon standards.
As Mitt flies from one mega mansion to another, collecting hundreds of millions of dollars from the country's billionaires to put him in the driver's seat of a new government even more hostile to the less fortunate, one wonders where the scriptures are that suggest the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Billionaires are one and the same.
Mitt's now legendary and record-breaking flip-flopping is routinely written off as political pandering and insincerity. Those terms are too soft. It is another form of lying. It is simply not believable that a politician could so thoroughly change every one of his core beliefs over the short time that Mitt professes to have done so. That is unless he had no core beliefs, other than that he should be president. In that case, pretending that he has core beliefs is another manifestation of dishonesty.
Mitt has arrogantly dismissed criticism of his wealth as the ugly underbelly of envy. This will probably come as a genuine surprise to Mitt, but many of us, perhaps most of us, aren't envious at all. Most of us don't need a private jet, multiple Cadillacs, or horses with aristocratic names in order feel O.K. about ourselves. Many of us would feel embarrassed or ashamed allowing ourselves that much grotesque self-indulgence.
Mitt, many people's lives were ruined in building your pot of gold. Not everyone is willing to do that. My criticism of your wealth has nothing to do with envy, but everything to do with the dysfunctional moral compass you use to guide your life's work. Despite your high-profile position in the Mormon Church, it is a compass that seems grossly at odds with the teachings of Jesus Christ. And your ambition has allowed you to rationalize that dishonesty as well.
Brian Moench MD is a member of Union of Concerned Scientists and an environmental/public health activist living in Salt Lake City, Utah.