I've assumed all along this is typical political manipulation, the deeply cynical approach pioneered in its modern form by Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes largely to get the GOP past the political disaster that was Richard Nixon, then perfected by Karl Rove, and maintained on a daily basis by FOX News (which has in the past explicitly sued to protect their right to lie on First Amendment grounds).
However, I am realizing with dawning horror that it's quite possible that Romney actually believes whatever he's saying, whenever he's saying it. That this isn't cynical opportunism, but an actual detachment from reality. A cognitive issue, or perhaps indescribably terribly judgment.
Certainly over the past decade or so, the conservative movement has made a concerted and self-conscious effort to opt out of the reality-based community. Many American conservatives have convinced themselves that when the facts disagree with their ideology, the facts have been biased or distorted by liberal sources. That's the relentless daily message of FOX News, for example. And that thinking lies behind everything from evolution denial to climate change denial to supply side economics — all cherished conservative positions with no objective basis in the real world.
When as the conservative movement has done, you demonize and disparage intellectual achievement and the validity of real world data and experience, intellectual consistency really does stop being a concern.
We know from Romney's own words that he believes things which are incomprehensible to almost all of the rest of us. When he told unemployed Florida voters, "“I should tell my story. … I’m also unemployed," Romney was equating the experience of having a quarter billion dollars of net worth with being out of work and unable to pay his bills. Or Ann Romney's comments about their struggles in the early years of their marriage, ""They were not easy years. […] Neither one of us had a job, because Mitt had enough of an investment from stock that we could sell off a little at a time."
The Romneys are people who believe their experiences of unemployment and financial struggle connect them with everyday Americans. And they seem genuinely offended when others don't accept that self-assessment. In this, they both are hideously detached from reality. And it's only small example of what seems to go on in Romney's mind.
This doesn't precisely qualify Mitt to be president.
I'm starting to be far more frightened by the idea that Romney believes his own words than I ever was by the callow cynicism I'd assumed in him up until now. Admittedly, the nation will survive his presidency if elected. We survived the charismatically veneered Alzheimer's of Ronald Reagan, and we survived the dry drunk, entitled incompetence of George W. Bush, after all. But the idea that anyone takes this man with his shallow, inconsistent ideology and cognitively fractured worldview seriously is just frightening. The idea that tens of millions of my fellow citizens take him seriously is just depressing.
We really do get the government we deserve.