Film history is rife with narratives about corrupt politicians, so we have plenty of models for thinking about how virtue gets corrupted along the way to political office. Think of Robert Redford in The Candidate (1972) or Broderick Crawford in All the King’s Men (1949, below) — the basic trope is that politics corrupts.

But film history gives me no model by which to understand Mitt Romney’s willingness to lie during this campaign. He’s the political equivalent of Gumby: endlessly plastic, bendable. I am sickened to my bones of a man who either is willing to say anything to make himself more appealing to voters — no matter that he claimed just the opposite last week or last month — or someone with so few actual political commitments that they all seem to him to be accurate. He praised Planned Parenthood till he condemned it; now he claims to have no plans to dismantle abortion rights despite having been avidly pro-life to the point of advocating a personhood amendment. Each time he lies, his big eyes and handsome face and devout Mormonism all seem to try to reassure me that he’s at heart a good man, an honest man. It is all a lie.

In the one week since the debate with President Obama, Romney’s campaign has had to “walk back from” (i.e., deny) a number of the most crucial things he professed during that evening. His campaign has just today denied that he really meant to flip on the abortion question. What do you call a man who lies with such skill? What do you call a man who shape-shifts with such dexterity and disinterest in political commitment, yet decries his opponent for getting his position wrong. I am sick to death of it, and have a fear in my soul that a desperate American public will believe what it wants to hear — whatever little piece suits their fancy. For this man, no policy matters enough that he will not change positions depending on who’s listening.

In Romney’s America, there will be no king in Israel.

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Is it any surprise I have trouble telling the difference between satire and true stories? Witness the latest from Rupert Murdoch’s trial for phone hacking in London:

Rupert Murdoch described on Thursday being “mobbed” and “harassed” by journalists and paparazzi, in an exchange rich with irony during his testimony at a judicial inquiry on press ethics prompted by criminal behaviour at one of his papers.

The 81-year-old media mogul was facing a second day of grilling at the Leveson Inquiry, which has heard dozens of witnesses give detailed accounts of being harassed by reporters from Murdoch’s own newspapers.

(Reuters, 26 Apr. 2012)

I’m sorry, but how is it possible this man feels no shame for such a statement? These are the questions that keep me awake at night.

Just recently I was utterly fooled by a satirical story about Ann Romney — a story for which I apologized so profusely that several wise commentators left notes telling me to let it go. “Women apologize too much,” Naomi wrote kindly but tersely. She continued: “Rather, women of conscience do that.” She’s right. But I wonder if the shame differential is not just a gender issue, but also a class matter. Why does my middle-class, female shame button get pushed at the slightest error, and Murdoch’s wealthy male shame button appears to be protected by impermeable glass and Secret Service-protected launch codes?

After all, let’s remember the (true) story about Ann Romney of last month, when she pronounced that she doesn’t “consider myself wealthy,” which prompted the ever-astute Jezebel to offer the headline, ZILLIONAIRE ANN ROMNEY DOESN’T CONSIDER HERSELF RICH. Now, Ann Romney can consider herself in whatever way she likes. But it seems to me that if someone who earns $21 million per year on investment income alone — and pays a minuscule $3 million in taxes (ca. 14%) on it — makes such statements out loud during an economic recession, she might feel shame. There is no sign of such.

Thus, I offer you my Social Science-y Insight Of The Month: the Shame Differential©! (Copyright pending.) Let me explain:

The Shame Differential is the sum total of two separate measures tallied by the Shame-O-Meter® and the Shame Ray®, observable on these two tables (and apologies/ compliments to Jessica Hagy’s blog This Is Indexed, from which I borrow her style of graphics):

You see? As this “scientific” graph shows us, the lower your income, the higher your capacity to experience shame. Since women own only 36% of the wealth in the U.S. (and the stats are significantly more dire for Latinas and African-American women), the Shame Burden falls disproportionately on women at the same time that it hits working- and middle-class men hard, too.

Yet to fully assess the Shame Differential©, this “scientific” finding by the Feminéma Institute for Advanced Study must be paired with the equally “scientific” Shame Ray® Index, which measures the eagerness of specific populations to dish out shame to others:

Now you may be infinitely more enlightened by my research, but perhaps you’re wondering: why does it seem that U.S. Republicans seem so eager to shame women, Blacks, Latinos, and/or the poor? Well, duh! The Shame Differential© explains all! Who do you think the GOP represents: the 99%? Ha ha! Moreover, if you’re a woman, a person of color, or not wealthy, you’ve doubtless become quite skilled in feeling ashamed of a whole lot in your lifetime.

One final note: because Feminéma’s Shame Differential© is not merely an index but a diagnosis of a cultural disease — and therefore a social problem to be corrected — I hereby rename it the Breivik Shame Differential© after the Norwegian responsible for last summer’s massacre of 77 left-wing fellow countrymen and women, 69 of whom were teenagers at a summer youth camp. Now, Breivik is not a member of the GOP, nor is he the consummate ideological media mogul asshole criminal that Murdoch allegedly is, but his utter incapacity to feel shame helps us further understand the sociopathic inclinations of the Shame Differential:

OSLO — The self-described anti-Islamic militant [Anders Behring Breivik] who has admitted killing 77 people in a bombing and shooting spree last July told bereaved families on Monday that he had also lost his family and friends as a result of the massacre.

…“When people say they have lost their most beloved, I also lost my entire family, I lost my friends,” he also said. “It was my choice. I sacrificed them, but I lost my entire family and friends on 22 July. I lost everything. So to a certain extent, I understand.”

(New York Times, 23 Apr. 2012)

So the next time you hear a story that appears so hypocritical as to rattle the teeth in your head, and/or the next time you hear a GOP presidential candidate say that the very poorest in the U.S. are cared for by social services, just remember the Breivik Shame Differential©.

You’re welcome.

How would you feel if Jerry Sandusky’s lawyer came out and said, “If there are any more boys out there who’re thinking about coming forward with sexual assault charges against my client, you should think twice”?

How quickly would he be censured? His license revoked?

Yet that’s exactly what Herman Cain’s lawyer did, except he (safely) delivered that threat to women. “Anyone should think twice before you take that type of action,” Lin Wood said, addressing sexual harassment victims considering coming forward with charges. “And I think it’s particularly true when you are making serious accusations against someone running for president of the United States, but I think it’s equally true if you are making those accusations against your next door neighbor.”

Think twice. As if women who’ve experienced sexual harassment haven’t already thought twice — as she weighed the costs of reporting a boss or co-worker. As she thought about feeling derided and violated, yet worried the backlash of her reporting would be worse. As she wondered whether he was serious when he suggested she’d lose their job unless she succumbed. As she got glares from the other women in the office who thought she was flirting with him. As she wondered how to find health insurance if she quit. As she received no help whatsoever from the human resources person to whom she reported it.

This isn’t about someone else. This is about you.

Wood’s threat — from a lawyer! — has to do with the public shaming women will experience if they come forward. Rush Limbaugh has already started piling abuse on Sharon Bialek, the most visible of the accusers. (Can you imagine if Limbaugh tried to make slurping noises about the boys abused by Sandusky?) But this isn’t just a question of verbal insults: I can’t imagine how many death threats have been thrown at Bialek and Karen Kraushaar.

The Cain campaign has raised $9 million since news of the sexual harassment charges came out on October 1. He thinks it’s really funny to recommend that Mitt Romney get charged with sexual harassment to help his poll ratings, because polls still place Cain at first, or tied for first, in the pack of GOP hopefuls.

Readers: what will it take for you to get angry enough to do something about this misogynistic culture? When will you say to yourself, this is enough — I’m willing to stand up for myself and other women?

Because at the rate we’re going, we’re getting to a place where no woman is a “good enough” victim; we’re all bitches now. No rape or assault will be enough to protect you from the charge of being a bitch for reporting it.

You know how to start? Talk about the sexual harassment you’ve received, and talk about why it put you in an impossible situation. Talk about how hard it was to talk about it. Talk about how the frustration is doubled when you feel both violated and silenced. If they’re telling us we are all bitches now, then they’re going to have to hear something in response. Basta!