Mitt Romney has a debilitating condition that won't show up in his medical report: severe cognitive dissonance—simultaneously holding conflicting ideas, beliefs and values.
His problem goes deeper than routine hypocrisy and expedient flip-flopping. Romney believes that free enterprise serves justice and the public good—and that he and Bain Capital embody beneficence. He also believes that people like him, and businesses like his, make it on the strength of their bootstraps.
And yet the arc of Mitt Romney's life and wealth betrays the delusions inherent in those myths. First, of course, he was advantaged by birth into a wealthy, powerful family. And then, in 1984 when he started Bain Capital, the company that made him rich, he got significant help from a source antithetical to his Mormon principles—members of Salvadoran families linked to a corrupt government, 12 years of murderous civil war, and death squads.
During the civil war, some members of the Salvadoran ruling families sought safe haven for their assets—and asses—in Miami. In 1984, Romney, seeking cash, visited this popular harbor for storm-tossed Latin American oligarchs. The Salvadorans, along with other Latin Americans, invested somewhere between $6.5 million and $9 million (sources differ) in Bain, accounting for 33 to 40 percent of its outside capital.
Adding irony to outrage, that Salvadoran seed money was, in effect if not intent, a U.S. government subsidy to Romney, since it was Washington that funded El Salvador's wartime military regime with $6 billion in aid, according to a 1991 report sponsored by the Defense Department. The Salvadoran government was responsible for the overwhelming majority of the estimated 70,000 deaths and 8,000 disappearances during its war against the reformist, left-wing FMLN. Washington supplied weapons, financial aid, intelligence and training that included how-to manuals for targeting civilians with extrajudicial executions, torture, false imprisonment and extortion.
Bain's "limited partners" in Miami included members of the de Sola and Salaverria families, according to the Boston Globe. Both clans were part of the close-knit Salvadoran elite that ran the government, the military and the death squads.
In 1984, former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador Robert White "named two Salaverria brothers—Julio and Juan Ricardo—as two of six Salvadoran exiles in Miami who had directly funded death squads, repeating in sworn congressional testimony a claim he'd made earlier as ambassador," the Huffington Post recently reported. (That outlet, the Los Angeles Times and Salon have excellent articles on the connection, which was also reported during Romney's 1994 U.S. Senate race against Ted Kennedy.) But proof that individual Bain investors had blood on their hands is hard to come by. Romney refuses to disclose the names of any of his original investors.
In 1999, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Romney had vetted the investors and uncovered "no unsavory links to drugs or other criminal activity." Unless you consider death squads, torture and disappearances to be savory and legal, Romney's claim is improbable. "At the time , U.S. officials were publicly accusing some exiles in Miami of funding right-wing death squads in El Salvador," the Los Angeles Times reported.
Further displaying his cognitive dissonance, the Republican candidate pounced on Obama's statement to entrepreneurs that "you didn't build that [your business], somebody else made that happen" because "somebody along the line gave you some help."
Leaving aside his willful misinterpretation of a bland statement about the role of government and infrastructure, it's worth pointing out that Romney has indeed gotten a lot of help, including help from Uncle Sam. "We couldn't have [Olympic] Games," he once said of his other self-proclaimed business success, "without the support of the federal government."
But more important than Romney's cognitive dissonance about his debt to government help is what his apparent acceptance of Salvadoran blood money says about his self-delusion, his greed or his ambition—or all three.