This week’s pick for Governor Mitt Romney’s Lie of the Week has been simmering since the day I posted last week’s entry. Choosing it was a no-brainer, because it’s so egregious a lie; it’s also sad, because it’s the kind of lie that ought to send its teller home, hanging his head in shame. Instead, Mitt repeats it over and over, as do his campaign staffers and surrogates.
It’s as disgusting a lie as we’ve heard all campaign season (well, in the context of the campaign and the candidates—obviously we’ve had idiots like Donald Trump and Michelle Bachmann doing their usual clown routines, and other folks not associated with the campaigns offering lies like the one about Obama’s supposed plan to postpone the election by starting a race war. But those don’t bear serious discussion). And I'm far from the only one who feels that way.
Here’s what Mitt’s been saying, as posted on his Facebook page and in a press release: “President Obama’s lawsuit claiming it is unconstitutional for Ohio to allow servicemen and women extended early voting privileges during the state’s early voting period is an outrage. The brave men and women of our military make tremendous sacrifices to protect and defend our freedoms, and we should do everything we can to protect their fundamental right to vote. I stand with the fifteen military groups that are defending the rights of military voters, and if I’m entrusted to be the commander in chief, I’ll work to protect the voting rights of our military, not undermine them.” He’s saying much the same in speeches. RNC chair Reince Priebus sent out a tweet on Monday saying, "We need to call out Obama for trying to water down the voting privileges of our military men and women in Ohio." It’s a lie. Doesn't matter who says it, or how it's phrased, or how many times it's repeated. It's still a lie.
What they're talking about is a lawsuit filed by the Obama campaign in response to a law passed in Ohio last year that ends early voting on the last weekend before the election for all Ohioans except currently serving members of the military and their families. The lawmakers wanted to make the law universal, denying Ohioans the privilege of voting on the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday before the presidential election, but that violated the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voter Act. Ohio’s secretary of state decided that military folk could still vote early, but nobody else could.
The reasons for this change to the law are easy enough to see. In 2004, 174,000 Ohioans simply gave up--the voting lines were too long and they had jobs and lives, and George Bush won the state (by a considerably smaller margin than 174,000). The state realized there was a problem, and created widespread, convenient early voting. In 2008, around a million Ohio voters cast ballots during the early-voting period. It was popular especially with black churchgoers, who caravaned to the polls after church on that Sunday, and turned out heavily for Obama (who won Ohio). Ohio’s current Republican-dominated legislature wants to make sure those people can’t easily vote this year—they want to see the hours-long lines and massive inconvenience that existed before early voting became the norm. As an aside, Ohio Republicans are also working to make sure early voting hours, in the weeks before that final weekend, are expanded in Republican-leaning areas and reduced in Democratic leaning areas. I wish I was making that up, but I'm not. That, however, is not the topic of Romney's dishonest attack.
So by opposing it, is the Obama campaign trying to attack voting rights for soldiers? Of course not. Here, in fact, is the first sentence of the first paragraph of the legal complaint the campaign filed: “Plaintiffs bring this lawsuit to restore in-person early voting for all Ohioans during the three days prior to Election Day—a right exercised by an estimated 93,000 Ohioans in the last presidential election.”
“All Ohioans” is the pertinent phrase here. The president’s campaign is not seeking to take anything away from members of the military, but instead to restore the same rights to every Ohio voter, including the many thousands of military veterans who had those rights taken away by the legislature’s blatant attempt to manipulate the election.
Romney’s claim that the lawsuit is an outrage is the real outrage, because he is arguing in favor of suppressing the legitimate votes of tens of thousands of Ohioans. He is lying about the Obama campaign’s suit, and about its possible effect. There’s no other word for it—it’s not a disagreement, it’s not spin, it’s a lie. Romney is hiding behind the men and women of our armed forces, using them as political cover, to shield him from a lie that goes to the very heart of our democracy—who gets to vote.
It’s beyond shameful. It’s truly disgusting.
Sadly, Ohio isn’t alone. Last year and this, Republican-controlled statehouses across the country have been busy passing laws intended to reduce voter turnout. These laws are plainly discriminatory, aimed at minority populations, at students, at seniors, at the poor. These groups all turned out heavily for Obama in 2008, which is why they’re targeted now.
Throughout our nation’s history, voting rights have been consistently expanded, encompassing more and more Americans. This is as it should be. Voting is no longer strictly the province of white male land-owners. As Romney himself says in the quote up top, voting is a "fundamental right." But in these past two years, that trend of more than two hundred years has been turned around, by Republicans who fear the honest votes of decent citizens. Every American should see this as the real outrage, and should speak up against this suppression wherever it exists.
Instead, Romney encourages it, lies about it, and hides behind Americans in uniform.
I don’t know if he’ll be able to top this for sheer, disgusting cowardice and dishonesty. I have no doubt that he’ll try, though, because that’s the kind of man he’s proved himself to be.
The week’s runner-up is a rerun of a previous runner-up, and it’s also a particularly disgusting lie—it just happens to keep coming up in weeks during which there are even worse affronts to honesty. Plus, my goal here is to focus on lies that Romney tells himself, not on campaign ads. But he repeated this lie many times in speeches, so it qualifies, even though it’s an ad that brings it back into the spotlight.
This week, the Romney campaign released an ad that harks back to the issue of the welfare-to-work requirement created in Bill Clinton's welfare reform of 1996. Obama has agreed to allow states who so choose the flexibility to create their own structures to satisfy this requirement. Of course, conservatives argue for this sort of states’ rights issue all the time, and in point of fact, then-Governor Mitt Romney signed on to a letter asking for exactly this flexibility.
The new adclaims that Obama “quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements. Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check."
That’s a lie. Obama agreed to a request by Republican governors to allow their states flexibility in how they organize the law’s welfare-to-work provisions. There are honest disagreements over the process by which the administration offered the waivers, but the don't do away with the welfare-to-work aspect of the Clinton-era reform. As governor, Mitt Romney was in favor of flexibility at the state level. Now he hates it?
In the title up top, I promised bonus hypocrisy, and here it is. Faced with shrinking poll numbers in spite of (or perhaps because of?) his dishonest attacks, Mitt has decided that the problem is too many attack ads against him. And he is crying about it in public.
On Thursday, he appeared on Bill Bennett's radio show, and actually said this (and there's no indication that he was being ironic or sarcastic, but actually appeared to believe what he was saying: "You know, in the past, when people pointed out that something was inaccurate, why, campaigns pulled the ad. They were embarrassed. Today, they just blast ahead. You know, the various fact-checkers look at some of these charges in the Obama ads and they say that they're wrong, and inaccurate, and yet he just keeps on running them."
This guy has been getting called out for months, over the most dishonest ads in the history of presidential TV advertising. This week he launches the welfare ad that many experts agree is simply the single most dishonest campaign ad ever--and he bemoans the fact that the other guy won't pull his ads? The hypocrisy is really breathtaking.
It comes down to this: Mitt Romney wants us to entrust him with the job of president. But he has given fewer actual policy details than any other modern presidential candidate. He won’t share the number of years of tax returns that has become commonplace (or nearly as many as he showed John McCain, in his desperate attempt to become McCain’s running mate), or tell us how he amassed more than $100,000 in an IRA. He has changed positions so many times, on so many issues, that his true opinions can't be known. He tells, and allows to be told on his behalf, flat-out lies, at a rate unheard of in modern campaigns.
Joe Klein writes, "I can’t remember a candidate so brazenly allergic to facts. What a travesty."
And Kevin Drum adds (in a piece titled, "Mitt Romney Sure Does Lie a Lot, Doesn't He?"), "This really is a post-truth campaign. It's different. It's one thing to be nasty. All campaigns are nasty. It's one thing to twist and distort and mock. Every campaign does that too. Even the attacks on Al Gore in 2000, as vicious as they were, were mostly media inventions. The Republican campaigns had the distortions handed to them on a platter.
"But this is different. This is a presidential candidate just baldly making stuff up on the assumption that nobody will ever know."
In short, Mitt wants you to trust him, but he doesn’t trust you. He believes, in fact, that you’re an idiot, easily swayed by his words without the slightest ability to find out the truth for yourself. And what does it tell us about his argument that he can't simply attack Obama on his record, rather than making up lies?