Is Paul Ryan a Pathological Liar?

As we at Sky Dancing have been discussing for months, Mitt Romney lies constantly. He lies about facts that can easily be checked. He lies about President Obama’s record and about his own record. He has told multiple conflicting lies about why he won’t release his taxes, the latest excuse being that he doesn’t want to reveal how much he gives to his church. In my opinion, Romney isn’t a very good liar, but he doesn’t seem to care if he gets caught.

A few weeks ago, Romney chose a running mate–Paul Ryan–who may be a more practiced liar than he (Romney) is. Is that just a coincidence, or did Romney take a shine to Ryan because they are alike in their aversion to the truth? It seems to me that Ryan’s lies are smoother and more brazen than Romney’s are. In his acceptance speech at the Republican convention last Wednesday night, Ryan lied so easily and so frequently that it was hard to keep up. I think that someone who hasn’t been following the campaign as closely as we do could have easily been fooled because of Ryan’s seemingly sincere demeanor as he told lie after lie.

In a post at Politico, former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm spelled out Ryan’s elaborate lies about the closing of the GM plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin. Graholm clearly demonstrates that Ryan knew the truth about the history of the plant closing in detail; yet he deliberately constructed elaborate lies in order to blame President Obama for something that happened on George W. Bush’s watch. Granholm wrote:

But for Ryan and the Romney campaign, the truth doesn’t matter. Their campaign pollster admitted it: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers,” Neil Newhouse said this week.

That’s painfully obvious. Fact-checkers should take the weekend off after going through Ryan’s lie-larded speech on Wednesday.; Politifact; Glenn Kessler from The Washington Post — all must be exhausted from labeling as untrue the lies flowing from Ryan’s mouth. Like a river.


I couldn’t help thinking last night, we have been sold a bill of goods by a slick-haired, earnest-looking, fast-talking salesman. Harold Hill, move over. Apologies to Meredith Wilson of “The Music Man” fame, but if these guys win — we surely got trouble, my friends. Trouble with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for “Paul.”

Ezra Klein fact checked Ryan’s acceptance speech and found that only two of his factual statements were true–the rest, all lies. In a follow-up post, Klein concludes that Romney and Ryan have taken political lying to a new level. He even went back and compared Ryan’s speech with Sarah Palin’s in 2008:

After rereading Ryan’s speech, I went back to Sarah Palin’s 2008 convention address. Perhaps, I thought, this is how these speeches always are. But Palin’s criticisms, agree or disagree, held up. “This is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform — not even in the state Senate.” True. She accused Obama of wanting to “make government bigger” and of intending to “take more of your money.” That’s not how the Obama campaign would have explained its intentions, but the facts are the facts, and they did have plans to grow the size of government and raise more in tax revenues. Palin said that “terrorist states are seeking nuclear weapons without delay” and “he wants to meet them without preconditions,” which was true enough.

By comparison, Klein wrote:

The Republican ticket, when it comes to talking about matters of policy and substance, has some real problems – problems that have nothing to do with whether you like their ideas. Romney admits that his tax plan “can’t be scored” and then he rejects independent analyses showing that his numbers don’t add up. He says — and Ryan echoes — that he’ll bring federal spending down to 20 percent of GDP but refuses to outline a path for how well get there. He mounts a massive ad assault based on a completely discredited lie about the Obama administration’s welfare policy. He releases white papers quoting economists who don’t agree with the Romney campaign’s interpretations of their research.

All this is true irrespective of your beliefs as to what is good and bad policy, or which ticket you prefer. Quite simply, the Romney campaign isn’t adhering to the minimum standards required for a real policy conversation. Even if you bend over backward to be generous to them — as the Tax Policy Center did when they granted the Romney campaign a slew of essentially impossible premises in order to evaluate their tax plan — you often find yourself forced into the same conclusion: This doesn’t add up, this doesn’t have enough details to be evaluated, or this isn’t true.

Amazingly, even the corporate media has begun to call out Romney’s and Ryan’s lies instead of using their usual methods of claiming that “both sides do it” or simply reporting that one campaign says something and the other disagrees.

At least when a politician is lying about his opponent’s record or about his own policies you can understand the motivation; but what about when he lies about something insignificant, yet easily checked?

Shortly before the Republican Convention, Paul Ryan was caught in a lie about his “best time” in running a marathon. In an interview with right wing talk host Hugh Hewitt, Ryan claimed that he was a serious long-distance runner in college.

HH: Are you still running?

PR: Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don’t run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or yes.

HH: But you did run marathons at some point?

PR: Yeah, but I can’t do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.

HH: I’ve just gotta ask, what’s your personal best?

PR: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.

HH: Holy smokes.

Runner’s World magazine was so impressed that they asked Ryan’s campaign where they could find the records of Ryan’s sub-3-hour marathon run. The campaign didn’t hesitate to provide the information, so Ryan’s staff must not have been aware he was lying. They soon learned that Ryan had run only one marathon and his time was slightly over 4 hours!

It turns out Paul Ryan has not run a marathon in less than three hours—or even less than four hours.

A spokesman confirmed late Friday that the Republican vice presidential candidate has run one marathon. That was the 1990 Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, where Ryan, then 20, is listed as having finished in 4 hours, 1 minute, and 25 seconds.

After Runner’s World learned the truth Ryan’s campaign released this statement:

“The race was more than 20 years ago, but my brother Tobin—who ran Boston last year—reminds me that he is the owner of the fastest marathon in the family and has never himself ran a sub-three. If I were to do any rounding, it would certainly be to four hours, not three. He gave me a good ribbing over this at dinner tonight.”

Why would Ryan lie about something so meaningless and so easily proven false? If we didn’t already know about Ryan’s lies about Obama’s welfare to work policy and the multiple lies in his acceptance speech, maybe we could dismiss it as just ordinary bragging and exaggeration. But in the light of Ryan’s frequent lies, a number of writers have taken the marathon lie more seriously. See here and here and here.

Here’s what Michael Cohen of the New York Daily News had to say about this:

Now to be sure, politicians exaggerate, mislead and stretch the truth all the time. For example, at the Democratic National Convention in 2008, Joe Biden claimed that Sen. John McCain wanted to give oil companies a tax break of $4 billion. This was a clever bit of extrapolation by the Obama campaign the ignored the fact that McCain’s tax proposals would benefit all corporations. It wasn’t a lie, but it certainly misled. In addition, Biden gave Obama fulsome credit for legislation passed in Illinois that was almost certainly overstating Obama’s role in ensuring these bills become law.

But an exaggeration is not the same as a falsehood. And even in the case of Ryan, there were plenty of assertions that were “true” but were so devoid of context that they certainly misled his audience. But there were also lies, legitimate untruths that deserve to be called as such.

All of this brings us back to Ryan’s somewhat innocuous marathon lie. In a vacuum no one would care – or necessarily should care – that an exaggeration this like was proffered. While I find it a bit hard to believe that any marathoner would forget their final time by an hour, it’s of course possible that Ryan simply misspoke as his spokesman has claimed. While I have my suspicions, I cannot look inside Ryan’s soul to divine the truth.

But if you look at it in the larger context of Ryan’s speech on Wednesday, it takes on greater significance – and suggests that Paul Ryan is not just an occasional fibber but rather a person for whom lying is routine activity. It’s pretty hard to imagine a situation in which that pattern of lying isn’t a relevant political issue.

Could Ryan be a pathological liar? This isn’t a topic I know a lot about. I do know that habitual lying isn’t considered a disorder in itself; it is a characteristic of a number of psychological disorders such as biopolar, sociopathic or narcissistic behavior. Here’s brief definition of pathological lying:

Most people tell lies for a variety of reasons: to gain favor with someone, to hide a mistake or to avoid conflicts in interpersonal relationships. A pathological liar, however, will often lie for no reason at all. That’s because the pattern of lying is so pervasive, it becomes a habit. A pathological liar will often lie about routine and mundane things that are really of no consequence. In addition, when confronted with a lie, a pathological liar will pile on more lies to get out of the situation.

Well Ryan at least admitted the marathon lie right away. But was that his own choice or that of his campaign advisers?

Here’s a bit more:

A pathological liar is usually motivated out of fear or poor self-esteem. Therefore, the lies are usually designed to make the person appear more important, smart, brave or otherwise impressive. These lies are often easy to discern due to their fantastic nature or the utter lack of logic and reason. For instance, pathological liars will often claim to have close friendships with famous people or have accomplished amazing athletic feats….

Pathological liars are usually unconcerned or unaware of the consequences of these fabrications. When caught in a lie, these individuals usually make no effort to apologize for the lie or admit that they were wrong. One way to identify a pathological liar is by recognizing a history of broken promises, ruined relationships and an inability to complete important tasks on time. While most people feel some remorse for telling lies, a pathological liar will simply move forward and act as if nothing is wrong.

Here’s an interesting piece on pathological lying from Psychiatric Times. An excerpt:

Pathological lying (PL) is a controversial topic. There is, as yet, no consensus in the psychiatric community on its definition, although there is general agreement on its core elements. PL is characterized by a long history (maybe lifelong) of frequent and repeated lying for which no apparent psychological motive or external benefit can be discerned. While ordinary lies are goal-directed and are told to obtain external benefit or to avoid punishment, pathological lies often appear purposeless. In some cases, they might be self-incriminating or damaging, which makes the behavior even more incomprehensible.


PL is noted for the chronicity and frequency of the lies, and the apparent lack of benefit derived from them. The lies are easily disprovable tales that are often fantastic in nature and may be extensive, elaborate, and complicated. There often appears to be a blurring of the boundaries between fiction and reality. The magnitude, callousness, or consequences of the lying behavior are irrelevant. Even when there appears to be an external motive for the lies in PL, the lies are so out of proportion to the perceived benefit that most people would see them as senseless. Such characteristics of PL have led some researchers to conclude that the lying behavior appears to be a gratification in itself,5 the reward is internal (usually unconscious) to the liar, unlike ordinary lies, for which the expected reward is external.

We would need to know much more about Ryan’s childhood and see more examples of his lying behavior over time to characterize his behavior as disordered. But the sample we have so far of his public pronouncements has certainly convinced many of us that he is a habitual liar. Many of us have a similar impression of Mitt Romney. Is it possible Romney was attracted to Ryan because he recognized this similarity?

What do you think?

43 Comments on “Is Paul Ryan a Pathological Liar?”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    I haven’t been around much lately, because I lost my electricity for a couple of days, and I still don’t have my internet connection back. I’m camping out at my brother’s house this weekend because they are away for a few days and were kind enough to let me use their wireless internet.

    I listened to the last day of the Republican convention on a battery-powered radio, and it was really hard to take without following along with the rest of you on Sky Dancing Blog. I sneaked a few peaks on my cell phone, but I had to be careful in order not to run my battery down. This really made me appreciate this blog and all of you more than ever.

    So a big thank you to everyone for coming here and sharing your opinions and insights. If I were limited to to the mainstream media–even NPR–I would be desperately unhappy. I’m just so glad you’re all here!

    • RalphB says:

      You were missed! Welcome back and very good post.

    • Beata says:

      I was unable to blog the last night of the convention without you, BB! I watched home shopping instead and missed The Cranky Old Geezer Taking to an Empty Chair.

      HT did a wonderful job bogging, along with lots of other Sky Dancers. They were fab.

      I’m glad you’re back. This is another one of your great posts on the twisted Romney/Ryan ticket.

  2. Pat Johnson says:

    It is possible that Paul Ryan is a pathological liar. But consider the following:

    The GOP is giving its audience exactly what it wants to hear. The consistent referrals to Obama’s birth certificate is a case in point. Also the hints that he is a secret Muslim is said with as much conviction as is his plans to create a Socialist agenda when half the population has no idea what socialism itself even means.

    Fox New does nothing but lie all day long. Half truths, innuendoes, selective editing, is a staple of what they feed their audience who are either too stupid or too lazy to seek the facts. It is commonplace for the lies to pick up steam and become the “truth” when enough of those Fox talking heads seize the daily memo of “smear tactics” and run with it.

    The GOP and its stalwarts know its audience and the sleazier the lie the better. When reading one of the latest attempts to destroy Obama was based on his once having been married to a man and offered “proof” by way of a ring he was wearing before his actual marriage, there were enough morons out there who glady accepted this lie as a fact.

    How else to explain Obama’s failures over the last 3 1/2 years as Obama’s fault while discounting the truth that it was a concerted effort by the GOP to stall, obstruct, falisify, and vote “no” even on their own past proposals were up for consideration?

    A bald faced lie, even if there are fact checkers knocking them down one by one, is not an obstacle in their agenda when you consider that this is the same audience who denies climate change, evolution, and history in their platform.

    This is a crowd who readily accepts the notion that “reality tv” is real and the facts be damned. It is what makes it so eacy for Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney to make any claims they choose, factual or not.

    They do not deal in truth because they are not expected to.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I can understand the political lies to a point, although Romney and Ryan have gone further than any presidential ticket in my lifetime. But what about the pointless lies, like Ryan’s marathon time and Romney’s telling Wolf Blitzer that Mitt is his real first name? To me those are indicative of a real problem with dishonesty.

      • Pat Johnson says:

        But it all weaves itself back to the theory that they will say and do anything to get what they want. They know their audience.

        Remember when the GOP set out to prove that Bill and Hillary were not only murderers but heavy duty drug dealers using government planes to deliver and pick up their supplies? They even made a film about that one that was sold by Jerry Falwell and associates for a few years.

        Or that Vince Foster did not commit suicide but was “taken out” because he knew too much? Look how far they went to prove the untruths of Whitewater. One lie on top of another where certain segments of that party bought hook, line, and sinker.

        They even accused Bill Clinton of rape. Pretty serious stuff. All coming from the Republican Party and really no different than Joe McCarthy back in the 50s who even went so far to include Dwight Eisenhower of communist ties. So many lives were ruined before McCarthy finally faced disgrace.

        Nixon looked right into the camera stressing “your president is not a crook”. The lies come naturally to this party whose very aim and focus is power by any means, doing what comes naturally.


      • RalphB says:

        I think Pat is onto something in that the Right has built up this cartoon Obama and they have to run against him, instead of the real one, to keep the base from going off on them. I get that as a “base” strategy but don’t see how it gets you the swing voters needed to be elected, unless they can convince more people that the cartoon version is the real one. That’s what worries me most about the Citizens United cash flood at the end of the campaigns.

        The Dinesh Dsouza movie about Obama is like the Falwell movie about Clinton, except that it’s showing in theatres around the country instead of being sold under the counter. The nutjobs have been mainstreamed.

      • bostonboomer says:

        That is all true, but it is unusual for someone at the top of the ticket to brazenly lie as Romney has. Even Nixon delegated that task to Spiro Agnew. Nixon was also capable of guilt and shame. I think he was a much more “real” person than Romney.

        We would need to know more about Ryan to find out if his lying is compulsive, but I think the lie about marathon running is highly suggestive. I’m willing to bet if we knew more about Ryan’s history we’d find a lot of lying and exaggeration. I’ve seen hints of it in his self-aggrandizing media interviews and his claims of being a “policy wonk,” which he clearly is not.

      • RalphB says:

        I agree about Ryan. If he’s a “policy wonk” then I’m a kangaroo.

      • pdgrey says:

        Hey, Ralph, Ryan’s a policy wonk because David Brooks and Dancing Dave made him one.

    • janey says:

      these people must have no lives. I wore a wedding ring before my marriage, it was my grandmother’s. Was I secretly married to her???

  3. mablue2 says:

    This is a very interesting post BB.

    I always wondered about people who lie about stuff that is easily found out. In the case of politicians, I’m always surprised about those who keep on pushing the same lie althought the truth about what they are telling has already been exposed and known to all those who pay attention. The true timing about the closing of the GM plant in Ryan’s district has been told over and over again, as well as the lie about the “gutting welfare requirement”, but Paul Ryan still went ahead and told the story to a national audience.

    John Nichols of the nation said someone sent him a copy of a letter that was sent to employees of the plan, with instruction about what was about to happen, and the letter was signe by Paul Ryan.

    The strangest part in this story is that there’s apparently another GM plant in Ryan’s district or a neighboring district that actually closed under Obama’s watch, but Ryan didn’t even mention it. He just went for the lie.

    I thought the Republicans have become so bold in their lies because they know how much they can intimidate the media into not calling them out.

    I have always thought politicians lie because of hubris but I never thought about the possibility that that could actually be pathological.

    • dakinikat says:

      Yes. It is a great post with some very interesting links. Both Ryan and Romney appear to lie easily and without fear of recourse. I hope the press gets more backbone and calls them out.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Thanks! I think that Ryan lies with more ease than Romney, but that could be because Romney is so still and inauthentic while Ryan has always been perceived by the media as a “truth-teller.”

    • RalphB says:

      When they try to criticize the bailout, due to the closing of the plants like the one in Janesville, they neglect to mention the workers pensions were saved. Without the bailout, those pensions were toast.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Jennifer Granholm pointed out that Ryan might have been able to save the Janesville plant, but he didn’t make an effort–maybe because of his objectivist views.

    • northwestrain says:

      Pathological lying is what the military does — that the military will lie about even small details is well known. Way back when I was in the 5th grade living on a military base and going to a base school — we were so shocked to know for a certain that adults lie — on purpose and that anything the Navy PR tells the media will be a lie. We fifth graders had a meeting on the play field about something we all knew about (something our dads were involved in — no big secret) yet the Navy PR spun the biggest whopper of a lie we had ever heard. These adults did this on purpose — from then on we paid close attention and discovered that as a general rule the military lies. If the truth is ever told it is so confused with the lies and distortions that it is impossible to tell truth from lies. We also noticed that politicians lied frequently — and that they also played the same trick — lots of lies mixed with a bit of truth.

      Probably as a result of that education in pathological lying by adults — I am a stickler for the truth. However, since lying is so common it doesn’t seem to matter that some of us are serious about telling the truth. When people lie constantly — they assume that others lie as well.

      Take for instance the current case of mass cheating on exams. Most of my college classmates cheated their way through college. They bought term papers or bought the answers to the exams. I never cheated — all of my grades were honest. (Cheating is hard to prove.)

      There isn’t a real penalty for lying — in fact the ones who lie and cheat seem to be the winners. Romney is a bully/liar/cheater and look how far he’s gotten. Ryan has found that lying is how to get ahead. There is no penalty for lying. Problem with all the lies — the liars can’t remember which lie they told and with the advent of the internet and fact checkers the pathological liars are being exposed. Yet they are still getting away with lying — on purpose.

      Does anyone besides the truth tellers care — I’m thinking that we are the only ones who do.

  4. RalphB says:

    Sometimes our media are so stupid you can’t believe they can breathe on their own!

    digby: QOTD: Gloria Borger

    “In 1968, France was a dangerous place to be for a 21-year-old American, but Mitt Romney was right in the middle of it.”

    That little nugget is from a CNN documentary on Rmoney. If it’s not a lie, it may be something worse.

    • Pat Johnson says:

      She must be kidding!

      The most dangerous place to be in 1968 was in the US when the call up for the draft sent so many fleeing to Canada, or in Romney’s case, France.

      Rewriting history is another of their pasttimes: change the facts and again enough idiots will buy it.

      I worked with a woman once whose in laws came from Germany after the Second World War. She always pointed out how Hitler was named “Man of the Year” in 1939 by Time Mag as a way of protecting those in laws whom I always suspected of being nazis as they changed their names upon arrival. (Very interesting if you get my drift.)

      You could tell her until you were blue in the face that Time was not “honoring Hitler” but underscoring his ability to change history in his lead up to a world war.

      She wouldn’t budge in her assessment but contnued to believe whatever lie served her purpose and this is exactly what the GOP relies upon to spread their “truth”.

      • bostonboomer says:

        She’s referring to the student riots in France in ’68, but why that would be dangerous for a young man, I don’t get.

      • pdgrey says:

        How old is she? I guess she didn’t remember the draft. But really I can think of one maybe two CNN people I can watch and that’s when someone links to something so eye scratching you can’t believe it was on CNN. Take her name away from my now bleached eyes, please. Borger is a perfect MSM asshole trying to say all is equal and everybody does it, nothing to see here. Unless it’s a sex scandel, then MAC TRUCK BORGER!

      • pdgrey says:

        And another thing, remember the never ending media frenzy of the meaning of the word “IS”? A blow job and ending Medicare, (weighing inside my head, what will effect me) I just can’t decide. snark

      • pdgrey says:

        Ralph, I would like to use the “tip of the spear”. I’ll start, Romney is in a cult and can’t hide enough income from taxes from the country he wants to lead, Ryan is Ayn Rand and “only the worthy get to live” after using the government to advance his lying ass. Don’t you love how they pull up the ladder? It’s like certain religions, only a # of people can get in. No trailer trash.

    • northwestrain says:

      Let’s consider the danger to whom? Romney was the dangerous one. He was male & white and rich. Gloria Borger is as stupid as I always knew she was.

      Her remark tells us a lot about the elite media and just who they work for.

      • RalphB says:

        Heh, the danger in 1968 was nowhere near France or the streets of the US. As for all the chicken hawks, until you’ve been the tip of the spear you’re nothing but a backseat driver.

    • Fannie says:

      The only thing good I remember about 1968 France, well, the French Rolling Pin, I am gonna use it and build myself American Apple Pie tomorrow.

  5. surfric says:

    Yes, Ryan’s lies are well documented. The Herald even ran the AP article detailing some of the lies, to my amazement. But the most egregioius liar is Scott Brown. He stole his personal statement on his website from Liddy Dole, word for word, except for the part where she says she is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Dole (sorry I don’t remember their first names). He claims that Hillary calls him for his counsel “all the time”, when there are exactly two instances of their talking on the phone. He claimed to have been called into secret meetings where he was shown death photos of OBL, which turned out to be the same fakes all of us saw on the internet. He has said numerous times that he has had “secret meetings with King and Queens” which were totally ficticious.

    All the time, Brown and his minions have excoriated Elizabeth Warren for claiming Native American heritage that has turned out to be hard to document.

    Here’s the thing. At least Warren’s lies, if they are lies, which is not at all certain at this point, have some kind of point to them. They may have helped Warren get a more prestigious job. On the other hand, Brown’s lies MAKE NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. How does it advantage Brown to have seen OBL death photos, to have been in secret meetings with kings and queens, etc., etc. Only to make him seem more important than he is. That’s it. There is no tangible gain.

    If I were to have to make a choice between liars, give me the one who lies for personal gain, and not the one whose lies make no sense except to boost his sense of self importance.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Wow, I didn’t know that about Liddy Dole. But how could she be the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Dole? That’s her married name.