The original Watergate burglars. Or not, I can’t be bothered to check. who cares?Continuing the theme of “Mitt Romney is a prolific liar whose entire campaign strategy is based on repeatedly saying a bunch of alternate-history nonsense that isn’t even remotely true,” here is Paul Krugman:Over all, Mr. Obama’s positions on economic policy resemble those that moderate Republicans used to espouse. yet Mr. Romney portrays the president as the second coming of Fidel Castro and seems confident that he will pay no price for making stuff up.
Welcome to post-truth politics.
Why does Mr. Romney think he can get away with this kind of thing? [...]
[T]here’s a common theme to these whoppers and a number of other things Mr. Romney has said: the strategy is clearly to portray the president as a suspect character, someone who doesn’t share American values. and since Mr. Obama has done and said nothing to justify this portrait, Mr. Romney just invents stuff to make his case.
But won’t there be some blowback? Won’t Mr. Romney pay a price for running a campaign based entirely on falsehoods? he obviously thinks not, and I’m afraid he may be right.
Oh, Mr. Romney will probably be called on some falsehoods. But, if past experience is any guide, most of the news media will feel as though their reporting must be “balanced,” which means that every time they point out that a Republican lied they have to match it with a comparable accusation against a Democrat — even if what the Democrat said was actually true or, at worst, a minor misstatement.
Krugman makes a good point at the beginning of his column, in which he imagines what a similarly-premised passel of lies on the part of the Obama campaign would look like. Romney goes out of his way to accuse the president of wanting to gut capitalism, of dangerously cutting the defense budget (which in actuality got bigger), and generally of being something close to a communist. so what would be the equivalent level of propaganda, if Obama were to craft some to level against Romney? Krugman offers this:
“Mitt Romney believes that corporations are people, and he believes that only corporations and the wealthy should have any rights. he wants to reduce middle-class Americans to serfs, forced to accept whatever wages corporations choose to pay, no matter how low.”
Pretty good, but I don’t think it quite captures the ridiculous contrafactual elements of Romney’s claims. Romney goes out of his way to blame Obama for a recession that plainly started before this president ever took office: a contrary claim from the Democratic side would have to be something like, “Mitt Romney was one of the Watergate burglars.” Romney claims Obama is anti-business and even anti-free-enterprise; the counterclaim here would be something like, “As governor, Mitt Romney demanded poor children be left to die in a ditch.”
The level of hyperbole is remarkable, on the part of Romney and a few others, but these things are for the most part treated, at best, with the same bland fact-checking scorn as is dished out for “Mr. So-and-so says that statistic B is X, when we found it is in fact Y.” see my previous mutterings about, for example, the Swift Boat Vets episode against John Kerry; we have gotten to the point where, at long last, we’ve at least got a few institutions around willing to pipe up when politicians start fabricating things, but the media god of false equivalence somehow still demands that egregious, plotted, orchestrated campaign-long lies be lumped in with statistical faux pas or off-the-cuff false statements. It’s all right to finally at least mention that a politician might perhaps be lying their ass off on a regular basis, but—and this is the important part—there is still no moral condemnation associated with the effort. even if a politician does regularly lie, it’s not seen as the duty of the media to point out that, golly gee, having a serial liar in office might be a bad thing. On the contrary: it’s seen as part of the job description, for both politicians and reporters alike.
Suppose Mitt Romney or some other high-level political figure were to say something blatantly, ridiculously untrue. Yes, yes, I know, what are the odds, but let us all attempt to imagine it anyway. Suppose they said it directly to a reporter’s face. There are three things that might happen next:
1) Nothing. this is the most common.
2) the reporter might call attention to the untruth, suggesting that the facts do not support it. this happens rarely.
3) the reporter might be offended, and question the moral fiber of someone who would say such a flagrantly untrue thing. this happens approximately never.
As Paul Krugman points out, the problem we have with lying in our discourse is that there is almost never any price to be paid for doing it. There’s no down side. want to make up a malicious, ridiculous lie against your opponent—perhaps that he eats puppies, or that he killed his own grandmother for the insurance money? go for it. at worst, someone will mutter that so-and-so’s grandmother just happens to be still alive. in terms of concrete consequences, however, there will be precisely none. I’m not sure how we got to the point, in the Washington Village, where being a flagrant and habitual liar was no longer considered a degrading thing to be, but here we are. the problem with lies in politics is that we accept liars in politics as legitimate, “professional” figures. in most other professions, being caught lying would be considered a bad thing, but among the Village press, it is literally uncontroversial.
I mean that as indictment, not mere observation. we are led by serial liars because our press coddles them, cuddles up to them, begs access to them, and never, ever critiques them. Being a lying asshole is not considered gauche, but criticizing someone for being a lying asshole—well, now you’ve gone too far.
I think we ought to be able to do better than this, but I admit I don’t see a ready path forward. having a bit of moral fiber is considered quaint, when practiced by bloggers or other silly amateurs, but on cable television and in much of the so-called serious national press such things simply aren’t done. it is literally not considered polite, in reporting circles. I attribute the notable difficulty of established news outlets in recruiting fresh online reporters/editorialists to this very divide; an actual rebuttal of a politically motivated lie is considered the realm of opinion-weaving, not the task of a reporter, and whether reporter or “neutral” editorialist you are on thin ice if you show even a twinge of legitimate scorn for a lie or it’s practitioners, no matter how egregious or insulting to your reader’s intelligence that lie might be. such things cause most of the editors of the world to break out in hives.
Irritated rant over. I think Paul Krugman is quite right to single out the conspicuous lack of consequences as the key element of flagrant dishonesty such as Romney’s. I have no particular suggestion for fixing it, other than simply mocking the practitioners until they are sufficiently humiliated into doing better.
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