Over the course of this Presidential campaign, we’ve learned one thing about Mitt Romney – that he is willing to say virtually anything if he thinks it will get him a vote. (More)

A case in point was the first Presidential debate in Denver, where Romney told at least 27 falsehoods in only 38 minutes of speaking, which is an average of one lie every 86 seconds. Whether Romney was talking about his tax plans, Medicare, green energy , Dodd Frank, etc., virtually every major utterance by Romney at the debate turned out to have little to no connection to the truth.

And Romney’s performance at the debate was typical for him, as throughout this campaign Romney has repeatedly launched attack after attack on President Obama that are well-known to be simply false. Over at the Maddow Blog, Steven Benen has a 38-part series chronicling the numerous falsehoods that Romney tells every week. And, of course, Romney’s willingness to frequently create entirely new positions on issues has rightly earned him the nickname “Multiple Choice Mitt.”

Romney’s nearly pathological lying matters for at least two reasons. First is that our democracy can only function if candidates and elected officials abide by some basic connection to reality. Our system is designed as a representative democracy, in which our elected officials make the fundamental decisions regarding how our society is to be governed but must ultimately answer to the people who determine, through elections, whether such officials get elected or re-elected. But the ability of the people to ensure that the system remains representative is short-circuited if our elected officials deliberately and consistently lie about what they are planning to do or are doing because the public cannot really know what they are voting for or against. And if a campaign that is as detached from reality as Romney’s is able to succeed, it sets an extremely bad precedent for even greater levels of mendacity from future candidates.

The second reason that Romney’s willingness to lie with abandon matters is that a review of our nation’s history over the past fifty or so years shows that virtually every major policy disaster has been based on or grown out of blatant lying by a Presidential Administration. The litany of such disasters are likely familiar to most readers, but bear repeating:

  • Gulf of Tonkin – In August 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson, eager to escalate US involvement in the Vietnam War, fabricated the Gulf of Tonkin incident, in which North Vietnamese torpedo boats allegedly launched attacks on US ships engaging in routine patrols. President Johnson’s August 4 speech about the “incident” led to incredulous media reporting and paved the way for the U.S. getting mired in the war. The result was more than 58,000 U.S. soldiers killed and 150,000 wounded.
  • Watergate – President Richard Nixon’s willingness to lie and cheat in order to advance his Presidency and win re-election ultimately led to “a massive campaign of political espionage, sabotage and other illegal activities against real or perceived opponents” that represented “a brazen and daring assault, led by Nixon himself, against the heart of American democracy: the Constitution, our system of free elections, the rule of law.” The result was a Constitutional crisis in which President Nixon became the only President to resign in office and the jailing of 40 of the President’s aides and associates.
  • Iran Contra – Having been stymied in his efforts to US taxpayer dollars going to fund the Contras insurgency against the leftist Sandinista government that had come to power in Nicaragua, the Reagan Administration decided to clandestinely sell arms to Iran in exchange for the release of a handful of American hostages, and then use the proceeds from those sales to fund weapons for the Contras.
  • The Lewinsky Scandal – While of a far lower magnitude than the other lies on this list, President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky and subsequent blatantly false denial of that affair to the American people opened the door to Republicans almost creating a Constitutional crisis through the impeachment of the President for only the second time in U.S. history.
  • The 2003 Invasion of Iraq – President George W. Bush’s Administration told a cavalcade of lies to create an excuse for invading Iraq. The result was the death of more than 4,40o US soldiers, an estimated 1.4 million Iraqi civilians dead, and a direct financial cost of more than $800 billion with indirect costs (interest on debt, caring for veterans, etc.) bringing the cost to at least $3 trillion.

Romney’s willingness to say virtually anything in order to get elected does not bode well for what he and the people he would fill his Administration with would do if they were in the White House. We’ve seen from Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Clinton, and George W. Bush that the Office of the Presidency creates the temptation to lie, often with disastrous effect. Now imagine what would happen with someone such as Mitt Romney for whom lying appears to be second nature.

Some may respond that all politicians lie. But there is a large difference between the occasional shading of the truth or misstatements that most politicians engage in at some point, and the type of pervasive repetition of claims that directly contradict statements made only days or weeks before and/or that have been widely and consistently debunked. And it is this latter type of persistent and blatant lying that Romney engages in, and that raises serious concerns about what sorts of scandals or foreign policy misadventures would occur in a Romney Administration.

The contrast with the Obama Administration here is especially instructive, as President Obama’s first term has been essentially scandal free. The $250 billion or so in direct spending under the 2009 stimulus bill was distributed with virtually no corruption or fraud. The handful of times that there have been credible allegations of corrupt behavior by an Administration official, that official has been compelled to resign quickly. The small number of Obama Administration “scandals” that Republicans have managed to cook up – such as Solyndra – have turned out to be big nothingburgers. And a review of President Obama’s speeches and the White House and campaign websites show that, for the most part, the Obama Administration tries to do what it says it is going to do.

There are numerous reasons to re-elect President Obama. One of the biggest is the issue of honesty. The Obama Administration has an overall good record with regards to honesty. Over this Presidential campaign, however, Mitt Romney has shown that he does not even seem to be acquainted with the concept of honesty. History shows just how risky it is to gamble with putting someone as mendacious as Mitt Romney in the White House.

If you share our concerns with Mitt’s mendacity, share the Obama campaign video below calling Romney out for his lies at the Denver debate.