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Convenient Lies or Appalling Frankness?

The remark, by Eric Fehrnstrom, fueled criticism that Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, moulds his principles to fit with political goals.

Mr. Fehrnstrom remarked that "everything changes" for the autumn campaign when the Republican winner will face off in the presidential election against Barack Obama.

More acerbically, Charles Peirce writes in Esquire that the sad thing is not that this Etch-A-Sketch tactic may be dishonest or disingenuous, but that we're arguing over whether or not it will work:

It appears as though the whole issue is going to be treated as a matter of whether or not the tactic of abandoning those positions for which you abandoned your previous positions works or not. Romney's ungainly ideological fandango is going to be judged on style points, rather than on whether or not the man has the intellectual honesty to park your car, let alone be president of the United States.

This ideological fandango is the biggest problem that voters have with Mr. Romney, and prompts the question with which the Christian Science Monitor (regarded as politically neutral) headed its article "Mitt Romney's five biggest liabilities as GOP nominee": What does Mr. Romney really believe?

He used to support abortion rights, gay rights, and gun control, but now he opposes them. He used to support comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for those in the US illegally, but now he doesn't. He once said his reform of health care in Massachusetts could serve as a model for the nation, but now he's eager to undo President Obama's Affordable Care Act, if the Supreme Court doesn't get there first.

Many voters believe that Mr. Romney, like other politicians, will say whatever it takes to win. As The Monitor reports,

A New York Times/CBS News poll issued April 18 found that only 27 percent of Americans think Romney "says what he believes" versus 62 percent who think he "says what people want to hear." Mr. Obama scored 46 percent on "says what he believes" and 51 percent on "says what people want to hear."

But before you Independents and Democrats get too comfortable, this last poll data points out other hard truths. Less than half of those polled believe that the President says what he deeply believes. You and I both know people who supported President Obama in 2008, who expected great things from him, who have been deeply disappointed by his time in office, and who now believe that he too will say or do whatever it takes to be elected.

Mr. Martin writes that what we really desire from our leaders is the truth. "There is a raging hunger for authenticity," he says, and I agree. It's true in the Church, and it's true in the public sphere.

As people of faith, we say we value truth and justice. If either or both are in short supply in our public life, then we should call for better. At the same time, we should seek to model such integrity that the world can see what it is missing.

Perhaps this is appalling frankness as well.

But I think it is simply faithful citizenship.

4/29/2012 4:00:00 AM
Greg Garrett
About Greg Garrett
Greg Garrett is (according to BBC Radio) one of America's leading voices on religion and culture. He is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, theology, cultural criticism, and spiritual autobiography. His most recent books are The Prodigal, written with the legendary Brennan Manning, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, and My Church Is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century. A contributor to Patheos since 2010, Greg also writes for the Huffington Post, Salon.com, OnFaith, The Tablet, Reform, and other web and print publications in the US and UK.