Mitt Romney is getting a lot of grief for the not-so-auspicious beginning to his first overseas trip as leader of the Republican party. In case you've been trapped in a well for the last two days, when he was asked by Brian Williams how, in his expert opinion, he thought London was doing in preparing for the start of the Olympics, instead of offering the expected polite banality ("I'm sure it's going to be terrific"), Romney said something a bit more honest, saying that there were "a few things that were disconcerting" about the preparations. The Brits were not amused, and he got very public pushback from both Prime Minister David Cameron and London mayor Boris Johnson. It's all well and good to enjoy Romney's misfortune on this score. But let's not forget: The real problem with Romney isn't what he blurts out by accident, it's what he says when he has plenty of time to consider his words.
As I've written a zillion times, running for president is very difficult, and one of the hardest things is having every word that comes out of your mouth recorded, analyzed, and often twisted around and taken out of context. No one, and I mean no one, can go through that process without saying something that gets them in trouble on a fairly regular basis. Even the most talented politicians had their share of "gaffes." Barack Obama has. Bill Clinton did. Ronald Reagan did. No matter how good you are, it'll happen. And if you're not very good (and even Mitt Romney's admirers won't say he's a natural politician) it's going to happen even more.
Many of Romney's gaffes can be pretty easily forgiven. When he said "Corporations are people, my friend," for instance, he was trying to say that corporate profits eventually find their way to humans. In the case of the Olympic gaffe, other than being undiplomatic, there wasn't anything inherently horrible about what he said. But if you look broadly at Romney's rhetoric, what you see is not only that he tells extemporaneous lies quite frequently, but more important, he repeats lies long after it has become clear that they are in fact wrong.
There are plenty of examples; one of my favorites is how for years, Romney has been saying that Barack Obama "went around the world apologizing for America," a claim that is just false. And the latest example is how Romney has dishonestly ripped from context an Obama quote about how businesses benefit from the collective effort of other citizens and from government. It would be one thing if Romney used his distortion of Obama's words to needle him in a couple of speeches. But Romney has practically decided to base his entire campaign on it, from making ads about it to printing signs about it, to organizing events around it. And I promise you, neither Mitt Romney nor any sane person who works for him actually believes that what Obama meant to say was that people who own businesses didn't actually build their businesses. They know what he said and they know what he meant, but they decided that they don't really give a crap.
And this tendency, far more than all of Romney's "gaffes," is what really gives us insight into who he is. Perhaps as president Romney would only lie about unimportant things, and to no greater degree than the average president. But his performance so far suggests otherwise.