First, let me stipulate: all politicians evade and dissemble and lie. And that happens in all regime types: democratic and authoritarian. But within that broad reality, and focusing here on the American political experience, Mitt Romney is setting a new standard for - how shall we say? - insincerity, in the current US presidential race. And that, from a Confucian point of view, is a failure of the first degree.
Romney's basic problem is that his earlier political experience, as Governor of my state, Massachusetts, yielded policies and decisions that are labeled "moderate" in the American lexicon. Health insurance legislation; a ban on assault weapons; an effectively pro-choise stance on abortion: all of these things suggested a kind of centerist, moderate, perhaps even pragmatic, Republican. And all of that meant he would not fare well with the national, southern-dominated, GOP, which is much more conservative. But Romney wants to be President, and he wants that so badly he is quite willing to not only disavow his earlier positions but to try to claim that he was never really a moderate to begin with. Thus his implausible reinvention as a "severe conservative."
And, so, as the Rebuplican primaries unfolded, we were presented, time and again, with the spectacle of Romney trying to find whatever words would work to attract conservative voters. He went beyond flip-floppping to etch-a-sketching. It was, and continues to be, obvious that he will say anything, anytime, regardless of what he has said or done in the past, to please whatever audience he happens to meet.
It is, therefore, not at all surprising that he has shape-shifted again during the debates with President Obama. His performances have been veritable festivals of lies and distortions and prevarications. In subsequent TV ads he has gone bilingual in his fabrications.
He is the very definition of insincere. And that's a problem for Confucius.
Analects 1.8, contains a passage (which is very closely paraphrased as a stand alone passage in 9.25) that reads:
...above all else, be loyal and stand by your words. Never befriend those who are not kindred spirits. And when you're wrong, don't be afraid to change.
Romney gets all of this wrong. He is not loyal to his words: he says stuff that he does not mean and he does things that are contrary to his words. He obviously works very hard to befriend people who do not believe what he believes - or, at least, that is what his courting of conservatives appears to be. But it's hard to know because of his consistent insincerity. And, as suggested by his flipping and flopping and flipping on health insurance legislation, he has changed his views and pronouncements when we was right. What a mess!
For Confucius, matching words and actions is very important. Indeed, actions speak louder than words. Idle promises and post hoc rationalizations, in which word and deed are mismatched, are to be avoided.
The Master said: "The ancients spoke little. They were too ashamed when their actions fell short of their words." (Analects, 4.22)
Adept Hsia asked about the noble-minded, and the Master said: "Such people act before they speak, then they speak according to their actions." (Analects 2.13).
Again, this is a problem for most politicians. But Romney, in his denial of his actions as Massachusetts Governor, seems especially shameless in this regard.
Romney, however, probably doesn't care what a Confucian perspective might reveal. He is, after all, at something of a disadvantage in Confucian terms. As a life-long, successful, and fairly ruthless businessman, he does not cut a figure that a Confucian would necessarily respect at first encounter:
The Master said: "If profit guides your actions, there will be no end of resentment." (Analects 4.12)
Humane government is not like a business and experience in business has little to do with what is necessary to be a noble-minded political leader. A Confucian would not vote for him.