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.