‘Practical politics’ of Romney/Ryan campaign unfettered by facts
“The whole aim of practical politics” said H.L. Mencken, “is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
With a cynicism that only Mencken could appreciate, the Romney/Ryan campaign appears to have decided to base its entire campaign on such imagined hobgoblins.
Putting the worst spin possible on the other party’s achievements — even when this involves shading the truth — is a long-established political tradition. But the Romney/Ryan campaign has set a new low for truth in campaign claims.
Familiar Romney charges that have been found to be misleading or substantively untrue include the charge that Obama removed the work requirement from welfare, that Obama “stole” $716 billion from Medicare to support Obamacare and that the stimulus was a failure.
Despite the fact that independent sources, fact checkers, a host of journalists and even some Republicans have debunked all these allegations, they remain essential Romney talking points.
For example, Politifact said it has labeled the claim that Obama raided Medicare “mostly false” countless times, “still putting no halt to the attacks.”
But the real essence of the Romney/Ryan campaign became apparent in Vice President nominee Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech. So transparent was this tissue of misdirection that it left Matthew Dowd, a prominent Republican, complaining, “At some point, the truth should matter.”
Dowd, chief political advisor for Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos Sunday, “Paul Ryan so stretched the truth, and I like Paul Ryan, I have a lot of great respect for Paul Ryan, but [what] he said about closing the GM plant, which closed before Barack Obama took president, [and] about the Simpson-Bowles bill which … he opposed, and then all of a sudden … faults Barack Obama for [it] … He was trying to convey that Barack Obama was responsible for the closing of that GM plant and that isn’t true.”
Both sides resort to these tactics, Dowd said, but he conceded Republicans were more likely than Democrats to fabricate charges.
Fox News contributor Sally Kohn characterized Ryan’s speech in three words: “dazzling, deceiving, distracting.”
The first of these categories recognizes Ryan’s skillful performance. His “primary job … was to introduce himself and make himself seem likeable, and he did that well,” Kohn said.
Under “distracting” Kohn listed many of the substantive issues facing the nation that Ryan did not mention because virtually his entire speech was spent distorting Obama’s record.
But it is the “deceiving” that made this speech so disturbing to Kohn. “To anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to facts,” she wrote, “Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech.”
Referring to the auto plant closing story that disturbed Dowd, the Huffington Post said, “It was just one of several striking and demonstrably misleading elements of Ryan’s much-anticipated acceptance speech. And it comes just days after Romney pollster Neil Newhouse warned, defending the campaign’s demonstrably false ads claiming Obama removed work requirements from welfare, ‘We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.’ ”
Romney/Ryan have dispensed with facts to pursue Mencken’s “imaginary hobgoblins,” seeking to instill the fear and insecurity they hope will bring them into power. Make the elderly fear losing Medicare, the worker fear the immigrant and the middle class fear the poor; then ride the wave of fear into power.
The decision facing voters in November should transcend party differences. It represents a choice between an actual record, with its real shortcomings and significant achievements, and a fantasy of dark and subversive forces undermining democracy.