The conventional wisdom keeps telling me that Mitt Romney, for all his many faults (chronic dishonesty, incessant flip-flopping, cowardice, etc.), is at least a smart guy who cares about policy. Romney may lack integrity, we’re told, but at least he’s a vaguely technocratic wonk.

Except, I’m not at all convinced this guy is any smarter than his hapless Republican rivals. Romney speaks in complete sentences, which makes him look like a genius compared to Rick Perry, but consider some of the things the former governor says about his understanding of public policy. Here’s a gem from Iowa earlier today:

“Medicaid. You wonder what Medicaid is; those who aren’t into all this government stuff. You know, I have to admit, I didn’t know the differences between all these things until I got into government. Then I got into it and I understood that Medicaid is the health care program for the poor, by and large.”

I see. So, Mitt Romney, despite two degrees from Harvard, learned what Medicaid is when he became governor in 2002. He was 55 years old at the time.

Before he “got into government” and discovered what Medicaid is, Romney helped run a health company, which relied heavily on funding from — you guessed it — Medicare and Medicaid. What’s more, in his book, Romney boasts about having been a health care consultant, where he developed an expertise in how to deal with entitlements.

But he didn’t know what Medicaid was until he got into government?

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. “Romney didn’t mean what he said this morning,” you’re going to tell me. “He was only saying he didn’t understand Medicaid so that he could pretend to relate to the people in the audience. This wasn’t ignorance; it was pandering.”

Perhaps. I can’t say with certainty what Romney is ignorant of, and what he only pretends to be ignorant of.

But if this is the accurate explanation, let’s appreciate a disconcerting fact: Romney is so desperate to appear folksy, he’s willing to lie about his lack of awareness to get people to relate to him. And that’s just sad.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.