Cohen cited a Republican debate during which former House Speaker Newt Gingrich accused Romney's SuperPAC of running dishonest attack ads. Romney claimed that he hadn't seen the ads but then described -- and defended -- the content of one.
"Me, I would have confessed and begged for forgiveness. Not Romney, though -- and herein is the reason he will be such a formidable general-election candidate. He concedes nothing. He had seen none of the ads, he said. They were done by others, he added. Of course, they are his supporters, but he had no control over them. All this time he was saying this rubbish, he seemed calm, sincere -- matter of fact.
"And then he brought up an ad he said he did see. It was about Gingrich's heretical support for a climate-change bill. He dropped the name of the extremely evil Nancy Pelosi. He accused Gingrich of criticizing Paul Ryan's first budget plan, an Ayn Randish document. " He added that Gingrich had been in ethics trouble in the House and [Romney] ended with a promise to make sure his ads were as truthful as could be. Pow! Pow! Pow! Gingrich was on the canvas.
"I watched, impressed. I admire a smooth liar, and Romney is among the best. His technique is to explain -- that bit about not knowing what was in the ads -- and then counterattack. He maintains the bulletproof demeanor of a man who is barely suffering fools, in this case Gingrich.
"His [Romney's] message is not so much what he says, but what he is: You cannot touch me. I have the organization and the money. Especially the money. (Even the hair.) You're a loser."
But is such imperious lying really a good thing for a democracy? Should any politician feel that he has the right -- and the invulnerability -- to lie at will? Does the country really need a president who might convincingly tell the people that, say, Iran has WMDs justifying another war, or that some unpopular group of Americans represents a grave threat to U.S. security?
Shouldn't convincing lying -- at least on important matters -- be a disqualifier to lead a democracy, not something to be admired?
In Romney's previous career -- as a corporate raider -- lying may have been a part of the job, in lulling a company's long-time owners into complacency or convincing some well-meaning investors that massive layoffs won't be necessary. Then, wham-o, the company founders are out, their loyal workforce is on the street, and the company can be "reorganized" for a big profit.
Arguably, Romney learned his skill as a liar from those days at Bain Capital -- and he has put it to good use as a politician, taking opposite sides of issue after issue, from abortion rights to global warming to government mandates that citizens buy health insurance to whether stay-at-home mothers "work" or not.
Indeed, as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman noted on Monday, Romney's whole campaign is based on a cynical belief that Americans suffer from "amnesia" about what caused the nation's economic mess and that they will simply blame President Obama for not quickly fixing it.
To illustrate the point last week, Romney staged a campaign event in Ohio at a shuttered drywall factory that closed in 2008, when Bush was still president and was watching the collapse of the housing market which had grown into a bubble under Bush's low-tax, deregulatory policies.
"Mr. Romney constantly talks about job losses under Mr. Obama. Yet all of the net job loss took place in the first few months of 2009, that is, before any of the new administration's policies had time to take effect.
"So the Ohio speech was a perfect illustration of the way the Romney campaign is banking on amnesia, on the hope that voters don't remember that Mr. Obama inherited an economy that was already in free fall."
Krugman added that the amnesia factor was relevant, too, because Romney is proposing more tax cuts and more banking deregulation, Bush's disastrous recipe. In other words, Romney's campaign is based on the fundamental lie that the cure for Bush's economic collapse is a larger dose of Bush's economic policies.
And the jaded retort that "all politicians lie" is not good enough. Nor that lying is somehow an admirable skill for a politician. There is something special about Romney's lying, distinct even from Reagan's loose connection to the truth or Clinton's sleazy lies about his infidelity or Bush's disregard for facts. Romney's lying is more calculating, more professional.
Just as viewers of "The Good Wife" can distinguish between the corner-cutting of the typical lawyers and pols, from the brazen lying of the Matthew Perry character, American voters should be wary of a skillful, conscience-less liar like Mitt Romney.