The President We Deserve

An interesting series of Romney articles crossed my newsreader over the last few days. Something appears to be happening.

Kevin Drum, in Lies, Damn Lies, and Mitt Romney, talks about the outright lies (on Obama’s alleged “you didn’t build that” quote, his alleged undercutting of Clinton-era welfare reform, and his supposed diversion of Medicare funds into Obamacare) that currently form the central elements of Romney’s campaign messaging, and observes as follows:

I know, I know: politics ain’t beanbag. And past campaigns have hardly been simon pure. But there’s something more….what? Cavalier? Routine? Brazen? Don’t give a shit? What’s the right word to describe the Romney campaign’s approach here?

This is hardly the worst campaign attack ever. Swift boating was worse. Willie Horton was worse. The endlessly twisted quotes of Al Gore were worse. But those attacks were all based on at least a kernel of truth that was twisted for political ends. That’s not admirable, but it’s hardly unusual either. But Romney’s lies aren’t even remotely defensible, and the campaign barely even bothers to try. The welfare attack works, so they’re going to use it.

I think “brazen” is a good choice. And realistically, if a politician can get away with just making things up about his opponent, it would be naive to expect that there would not be some politician willing to do so, and that the ranks of elected leaders would swiftly come to be dominated by such people. So, what’s to prevent that?

The public’s ability to identify the lies for what they are, and punish the perpetrator by voting against him.

Newspapers, TV, radio, and magazines are the traditional way the public has obtained that kind of information. Drum wrote approvingly last Tuesday, in LA Times Gets It Right on Welfare Attack, that the LA Times’ willingness to use the headline “Santorum repeats innacurate welfare attack on Obama” is exactly the sort of coverage that needs to be present wall-to-wall if the Romney campaign’s strategy is going to be dialed back.

Looking at one of the lies in detail, Ron Fournier wrote yesterday in the National Journal about the Romney campaign’s emphasis on the “Obama is undercutting welfare reform” lie. This came to a head in a panel discussion in which Fournier accused senior Romney campaign adviser Ron Kaufman of “playing the race card” by running ads making misleading claims about welfare reform in swing states where racial animus among blue-coller whites runs high.

It’s worth watching the video to get a feel for how this is playing out:

Writing about the exchange in Why (and How) Romney is Playing the Race Card, Fournier wrote:

Kaufman, who I’ve known and respected for years, accused me of playing the race card – a fair point, strictly speaking, because I raised the question in a public setting: a joint interview with CBS’ John Dickerson before a large audience and live-streamed.

Still, Romney and his advisors stand by an ad they know is wrong – or, at the very least, they are carelessly ignoring the facts. That ad is exploiting the worst instincts of white voters – as predicted and substantiated by the Republican Party’s own polling.

That leaves one inescapable conclusion: The Romney campaign is either recklessly ignorant of the facts, some of which they possess – or it is lying about why (and how) it is playing the race card.

Look: We’re not children here. The Romney campaign is not recklessly ignorant. It’s lying. And it’s lying in a way that cynically encourages racial resentments as a way to try to peel off the crucial 2-3% of voters in a few swing states that they need if they’re going to have a credible path to 270 electoral votes.

Josh Marshall wrote yesterday about the Fournier/Kaufman panel discussion, and Fournier’s resulting article, in Outbreak of conscience?

Again, pretty much everyone knows this is true. You’ve either got to be a rube or a jackass not to see it [that Romney is intentionally exploiting racism]. But it’s … well, it’s indelicate to say it. And once you do, appealing to racism isn’t just one view against another. It’s something our society has decided is simply wrong. Could it be that the Romney campaign is just finally doing it so transparently that at least a few of the biggs will come out and say it?

Again, it’s not just the racism. It’s the brazen lying. Writing later yesterday at TPM, Brian Beutler had this analysis (A critical juncture):

If Romney relents [i.e., if he stops running the misleading ads because the media begins to lead with the ads’ dishonesty in its coverage], it’s a big deal for both the obvious reason that candidates looks terrible when they backpedal. But also because he’d have to return to old, ineffective themes, or find new and inspiring things to run on, which he pretty clearly doesn’t have.

On the other hand if he ignores all the pushback from the press, the political establishment will be facing something very new: a candidate – not his surrogates or outside supporters, but the top of the ticket – ignoring fact checkers, traditional campaign reporters, and even a few conservatives, all of whom have determined and publicly declared the attacks false.

That effectively pits the media against the Romney campaign in a test of will and influence. And it’s disconcerting to imagine that a determined media might not be able to effectively neutralize a presidential campaign intent on flooding the airwaves with false attacks. But that’s where we might find ourselves in the next couple weeks.

Commenting last night on day 2 of the Republican convention, Josh Marshall wrote (in Doubling down):

No question. The Romney campaign has doubled down. All in on the race/lazy/dependency groove from here on out. No going back.

In private they’re all but bragging about it – specifically their run of welfare-centric commercials which they’re running at a red hot clip in swing states all across the country. It’s working, they say. The fact-checkers can go screw themselves.

This shouldn’t be surprising. In some minds, it was McCain’s unwillingness to run dishonest racist ads in 2008 that allowed Obama to win. Romney, having demonstrated over and over that there is no principle of personal integrity that he will let stand between him and his shot at the White House, is not going to make that mistake. If he loses, he’s going to go down swinging.

So at this point I have to think that it’s really up to Obama. Not the media; they won’t, and can’t, do much of anything on their own. We don’t live in the Aaron Sorkin universe; there’s no Will McAvoy who’s going to grill the liars on TV every night. But the news will report on what the campaigns say about each other, and if the Obama campaign can succeed in painting Romney as dishonest, they’ll report that. The question then would be, would it stick? Or would it just play into the 5-to-1 onslaught of Citizen-United-funded pro-Romney advertising, which would mine quotes selectively or just lie outright to portray Obama as just another angry black man out to take your job while (paradoxically) lying around on welfare?

Are we, the voting public, dumb enough to fall for that? Or rather, is the teency slice of swing voters in a few key counties in a few key states dumb enough to fall for that? I guess we’re going to find out.

This interval, between the Republican convention and the Democratic one, was always going to be a scary time. This story makes it scarier. Because there really isn’t a cushion in the polls. In the basketball analogy Obama has been using on the stump lately, we’re midway through the fourth quarter, and Obama’s ahead, but not by enough to try to run out the clock. With these welfare attacks, Romney has taken the momentum, and it’s going to take some solid defense from Obama to stop the run and actually play some basketball himself if he’s going to win.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. But it’s not inconceivable that we could end up with a President Romney. For more on how that might look, I recommend the following article by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone: Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital.


13 Responses to “The President We Deserve”

  1. Steve Says:

    I can see two differences between Romney and Obama:

    1) Gay rights
    2) Obamacare

    I can see tons of similarities:

    1) Deference to the rich
    2) Civil liberties infringements
    3) Foreign policy
    4) War on Drugs/Terror
    5) Desire to cut entitlements
    6) Abortion
    7) Power of lobbyists


    I believe everything you say about Romney. However, I’m also not believing that Obama means that much either.

  2. jbc Says:

    Well, only one of them did an AMA on reddit yesterday, and in the course of it called for a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United. Also, only one of them is raising dishonest campaigning to a new, interesting level.

    But yeah, there are similarities, too.

  3. knarlyknight Says:

    I think Enk called this a long time ago when he recognized the GOP extremists’ disconnet from reality (aka facts) and coined “wingnutoverse”

    FYI – Fundraising in Israel is a new low too, even if it’s difficult to prove laws were broken re: campaign contributions by foreigners it sure appears that they were.

  4. shcb Says:

    You know what, Drum is full of shit, as is anyone that doesn’t believe Obama didn’t mean exactly what the Republicans are saying he meant. Leave the whole quote intact, it is still the same thing, government is the reason for your sucess and you OWE something to sombody (government) so they (government) can enjoy the fruits of your labors.

    After spending a little over a week in 4 European countries I have seen the vision of Obamaland and it sucks. People in Calmar Fr open their shops for a few hours in the morning and a couple in the afternoon. The little ancient town we stayed had one pizza place open serving unedible hamburgers. Our hostess runs her hotel completely herself ther is no money for help. If she worked that hard in pre Obama America she would be wealthy. there were many eating esablisments in the town, they were just all closed “they have made a little money for the year and have now closed! It is crazy!” Said Carolyne.

    This is his vision. This is what he wants. There is no reason to work hard once you resign yourself to OWING someone something for your hard work. Everyone had that same teacher, everyone has access to those roads but if you work harder and smarter than those that had those same teachers and roads you DESERVE to keep those rewards, you don’t OWE anyone anything. I thnk Americans, at least some, hopefully enough, understand that.

    This has been a magnificent trip, there are things here that exist nowhere else, but they were all built before Eurosocialism. We leave Monday, I will kiss American soil when I return, you can leave Obamaland on the east side of the Atlantic.

  5. NorthernLite Says:

    You should have visited Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, etc… but that wouldn’t fit your narrative would it?

    By the way, did you get a chance to see Clint Eastwood debate an empty chair last night and lose?

  6. NorthernLite Says:

    Oh, and one more thing:

    President Obama: If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.

    Mitt Romney: I know that you recognize that a lot of people help you in a business.

    President Obama: There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.

    Mitt Romney: Your school teachers.

    President Obama: Government research created the Internet, so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

    Mitt Romney: There are a lot of people in government who help us, and allow us to have an economy that works.

    President Obama: Somebody invested in roads and bridges.

    Mitt Romney: People who build roads.

    President Obama: If you’ve got a business.

    Mitt Romney: You really couldn’t have business if you didn’t have those things.

  7. enkidu Says:

    typical wwnj: i had to leave the Wingnutosphere and it was awful!

    The water fountain in my bathroom had a funny taste! (google: bidet)

    Hamburgers were not like the ones back home! (goto McDonalds, try local cuisine?)

    Foreigners have foreign customs! (wake up, not everyone is a malinformed nitwit)

    It smelled funny! and the trees were the wrong height! (that smell is you)

    Obama is black! also, sociamalism! (your strawman is that Obama wants to impose some kind of depressing mid 50s comoonism or something, is that it? sheesh but that seems nutty to me – perhaps you could list all the industries he’s completely nationalized and assumed personal control, with his army of czars, of course)

    One iota of info gleaned from your post wwnj: you seem to think that you should pay no taxes at all. You’ve previously hinted it is your goal to shirk your taxes (something I never really considered when the boy blunder GWB was bungling two foreign wars) sounds like Romney is your man, that seems to be his game.

    Hey where *are* Romney’s tax returns for the last decade? Five years?

    Obama is running to be head of the government not a corporate raider, a hedge fund manager or venture capitalist. In making the case for the proper role of government in society, the aspirant needs to talk about our crumbling bridges, our roads, canals, transportation systems, power grid, social services (like police, firefighters and so on) defense, education, foreign policy, industrial and environmental policy, healthcare and so on. You want government to not exist. Or at least when the black guy is at the wheel all you can do is whine like a little girl (I realize that is insulting to most little girls, my apologies).

    The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves in their separate and individual capacities.

    That isn’t communism or socialism or other big words that you have no clue as to their definitions and historical context. Funny how all the R’s have amnesia about who got us into this mess. bush, not Obama. Obama has done a half decent job against overwhelming odds, a right wing insurgency, including threats of assassination, secession and other wingnuttery. I’d like some action on the other half.

    That Eastwood ‘endorsement’ at the end of his… err, performance, was so back handed insulting and tepid it was kinda sad. Funny, but sad too.

  8. shcb Says:

    We’re in germany now, it is better.

  9. shcb Says:

    I think what I like most about talking to you guys is that you constantly take what I say and twist it to what you wish I and said and then resopnd to that… especially since JBC has this grouping of threads where he grousing that that R’s are doing just that… at an unprecidented rate no less. Let’s see, what does JBC call them… hmm… lies i believe?

  10. jbc Says:

    I’ll admit that it being convention season has amped up my tribal affiliation, leading me to notice and comment on things in a way that reflects my anxieties about the election. It still feels true to me, but given the way the human mind works, it would feel that way despite really being a skewed presentation that favors my desired outcome. I’ve seen it happen enough to recognize the symptoms.

    The specific thing I’m grousing about, though, is not just lies, or lies at an unprecedented rate. It’s the specific sort of lying behavior that David Roberts talked about in that item I linked to yesterday: Lying brazenly, without apology, and without backing down or substituting a different lie when the media fact checkers call you on it. There’s an implied assertion that actually, I really am entitled not only to my own opinion, but to my own facts.

    Maybe the Romney campaign is correct, that fact-checking is no longer relevant, that the closed, tribally-affiliated media universe that their supporters inhabit is impervious to outside information.

    If they are correct, though, and they demonstrate it by winning this election, it really makes me quite fearful of what it says about our future. Because while making up your own facts might work inside a closed information ecosystem, it isn’t going to work as a solution to actual problems in the real world.

  11. enkidu Says:

    Seriously wwnj, you need to google the term ‘bidet’

    Yes dear wwnj please point out how we’ve twisted your words of wisdom, how we’ve lied and lied and lied. Should be worth a laugh or three.

  12. shcb Says:

    I think it has always been that way JBC (just skipping over Enky) I went to the Sand Creek Massacre site a while back, local black spot in history. Now I’ve read what the newspapers said at the time, and now I’ve heard what the park ranger has said he was a very knowledgeable man, but even he had a bias. We have two camps of press, at times we have only had one, I think most times we have only had one. You have just had the press on your side for the last 30 or 40 years, it kind of sucks to see it move the other way a bit.

    The main thing is and has always been to have your own facts as much as possible. You seem to have Ryan on this one, maybe you shouldn’t vote for him :) go over to Samizdata (probably spelled that wrong) one of the guys had a good piece yesterday of the dangers of letting one group, academics in this case, but the press could be another, dictate our thoughts.

  13. shcb Says:

    should have said more about sand creek, my wife is russing me :) the press was very wrong at the time according to the ranger

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