Mitt (who told lies and was burned to death)

It’s Super Tuesday in the Republican primary season, and all indications are that Mitt Romney will emerge the nominee.  This calls for another examination of what his rival Newt Gingrich has called “the big lie campaign” and what New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has labeled “a post truth campaign.” (I linked to the Krugman article in my post last week about Romney’s lying.) To be sure, all politicians lie sometimes–if not directly, then through evasion or fudging—and maybe it’s even necessary in a country where one has to speak to so many different constituencies.

Romney, however, appears to have taken lying to new heights in contemporary American politics.  Not only does he deny things he once said or did but he accuses his rivals of saying or doing things they never said or did and then attacks them for it. Blogger Steve Benen has started posting Romney’s most flagrant lies from the previous week each Friday. Last week’s post can be found here.

We can understand why Romney does so. If the extremists in your party are determining who the next candidate will be, you tell them what they want to hear and then, when elected, do what you were going to do anyway. Call it Machiavelli 101. It just that most politicians try to be more subtle about it.

Will Romney pay a price for lying? I’ll meditate on what’s it’s doing to his soul another day, but the electoral answer will come to us in November. In the meantime, we can enjoy this wonderfully wicked poem by Hilaire Belloc from his send-up of Victorian morality tales, Cautionary Tales for Children.  As you read it, imagine Matilda as Romney and her flummoxed auditors as the rest of us.

The play that Matilda is deprived of, incidentally—The Second Mrs. Tanqueray—is inappropriate for children. Watching it is probably better than getting burned to death, but it’s a close call.

Matilda (Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death)

By Hilaire Belloc

Matilda told such dreadful lies,
It made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes;
Her aunt, who, from her earliest youth,
Had kept a strict regard for truth,
Attempted to believe Matilda:
The effort very nearly killed her,
And would have done so, had not she
Discovered this infirmity.
For once, towards the close of day,
Matilda, growing tired of play
And finding she was left alone,
Went tiptoe to the telephone
And summoned the immediate aid
Of London’s noble Fire-Brigade.
Within an hour the Gallant Band

Were pouring in on every hand,
From Putney, Hackney Downs and Bow,
With courage high and hearts a-glow
They galloped, roaring though the town,
“Matilda’s house is burning down”
Inspired by British cheers and loud
Proceeding from the frenzied crowd,
They ran their ladders through a score
Of windows on the ball-room floor;
And took peculiar pains to souse
The pictures up and down the house,
Until Matilda’s aunt succeeded
In showing them they were not needed
And even then she had to pay
To get the men to go away!

It happened that a few weeks later
Here aunt was off to the Theatre
To see that interesting play
The Second Mrs Tanqueray.
She had refused to take her niece
To hear this entertaining piece:
A deprivation just and wise
To punish her for telling lies.
That night a fire did break out—
You should have heard Matilda shout!
You should have heard her scream and bawl,
And throw the window up and call
To people passing in the street—
(The rapidly increasing heat
Encouraging her to obtain
Their confidence)—but all in vain!
For every time she shouted “Fire!”
They only answered “Little Liar!”
And therefore when her aunt returned,
Matilda, and the house, were burned.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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