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?

Family Dynamics and the Casey Anthony Trial

Cindy, Casey, and Lee Anthony

Since it’s Saturday night on a slow news day, I thought I’d share some of my impressions about Casey Anthony and her family. I’m by no means an expert on this case–I only began following it right after the trial began. I’ll try to briefly summarize the story behind the trial as I understand it, but I’m going to assume that readers have a basic knowledge of the Anthony case.

This case has been covered so extensively in the media for the past three years that it might even outdo the media circus around the O.J. Simpson trial. This is one reason I never read about the case until recently. I thought the public reaction was kind of repulsive and hysterical. But once I started reading about what happened, I was drawn in by the fascinating story and its psychological aspects.


Casey Anthony, 25, is on trial in Orlando, Florida, for first degree murder in the death of her daughter Caylee, who was nearly 3 years old. If convicted, Casey could be sentenced to life in prison or death. She is also charged with second degree murder and aggravated child abuse–both of which carry a life sentence.

George Anthony

The story began when Casey became pregnant at age 19. Casey supposedly did not realize she was pregnant until she was 7 months along. Casey’s mother Cindy, a registered nurse, also claims she never realized her daughter was pregnant until then. Casey’s father George went along with the charade too. Once she faced the fact that she was going to have a baby, Casey told friends she wanted to give the child up for adoption; but Cindy pressured her to keep the child, and provide for both of them. The child, Caylee, was born on August 8, 2005 and the mother and child lived with George and Cindy.

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