Decades ago, comedian and actor Garrett Morris did a bit on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” segment, during which he appeared in a corner of the screen during the fake news to provide assistance for the “hard of hearing.” Instead of performing sign language, though, Morris just shouted the anchor’s words louder.
Apparently there should be some similar service provided any time Mitt Romney or any member of his campaign staff speak, only instead of shouting louder, this person would be there to translate the Romney message into the truth. Romney, apparently, is constitutionally incapable of not lying, and the entire campaign is following his lead.
Months ago, Neil Newhouse, the campaign’s pollster, announced that “we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” Translating that into the truth, what he was really saying was, “We’re going to lie as much as we want, and if we’re called on it, we just don’t care.”
As I write this, on the day after Hurricane Sandy made landfall and destroyed much of the East Coast, the Romney campaign is holding a campaign event in Ohio. People across the northeastern quarter of the nation are trying to determine how bad their losses are, and Romney is politicking while the president, governors of every affected state, and federal, state, and local officials begin to try to assess the damage, and Romney is campaigning. But because it’s him, he can’t simply admit that he’s campaigning. That, apparently, would be too close to the truth. Instead, the campaign says they’ve cancelled the campaign event—billed as a “victory rally”—and have replaced it with a “storm relief event.” This “storm relief event,” though, features the same candidate, Mitt Romney, with the same celebrity guests, the same music that has accompanied every campaign rally, the same official campaign video. The press passes say “victory rally” on them. The only thing that has changed, apparently, is what the campaign is calling it. The name change, screams the man in the corner, is a lie. While others suffer and work to alleviate suffering, Romney campaigns, and refuses to admit that he’s campaigning. One might think Romney was better than that, but one would only have to look at how long it took him to play politics with the murder of four Americans in Libya to realize how naive that would be.
While he speaks in Ohio, he will probably repeat the big lie he’s been telling there this week, in person and in TV ads. According to him, because of President Obama's auto bailout (which, you'll recall, Romney said would result in the death of the American automotive industry), Chrysler is shipping American Jeep manufacturing jobs to China. The truth, shouts the man in the corner, is that because of the bailout, Chrysler is once again healthy, and can afford to not only expand its domestic Jeep manufacturing but can open a plant in China in which to build Jeeps for the Chinese market. Which will help Chrysler's bottom line even more. Romney, called on his original version of this lie (that ALL Jeep jobs were moving to China) backtracked slightly, and said of the real plan that those jobs should stay in the U.S. He's supposed to be a businessman, but he doesn't understand that the cost of shipping enough Jeeps to meet Chinese demand would make the retail price prohibitive? Not to mention the evironmental effects of such needless transport. Nissan and others make cars in the U.S. for just that reason.
Newspapers throughout Ohio and the rest of the country are refuting Romney's version of events, as the Washinton Post's Greg Sargent details here. But that doesn't stop Romney from repeating the same bogus claim--he won't be "dictated to" by fact-checkers. Or facts.
That man in the corner would have gone hoarse translating Romneyan during the debates, when Mitt spun around from "severely conservative" to "Moderate Mitt" in the blink of an eye. Either those debates were severely dishonest, or the six years preceding them were. Or both.
He's been at this from the beginning of his campaign. His first ad was built around a lie, deliberately editing an Obama quote to disguise the fact that Obama was actually quoting John McCain. Called on that one, the campaign essentially said, "Tough luck." The ad still appears on the campaign's website today.
I've published an occasional series of reports on Romney's biggest lies of any given week, but I've already got a full-time job and several book commitments (Mine are here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Steve Benen at Maddowblog.msnbc.com has done far more thorough reporting on this, and his columns are worth a look to see the sheer volume of deceit this candidate and his campaign have engaged in.
So the question presents itself: is Romney the candidate we deserve?
After all, the national polls are essentially tied. Virtually every genuine news organization in the country has pointed out at least some of these lies. And Fox "News" is one of the most-watched pretend news organizations in the country, despite the fact that right there in the name, the word "News" is a lie, as are the "fair" and "balanced" in their slogan. Maybe Romney's right, and we really have become so inured to lies that it doesn't matter what he says. Maybe he could tell us tomorrow that the election is over and he's Emperor-for-life, and half the country would believe him.
Republicans among us seem to have a high tolerance for dishonesty to begin with (see Fox "News," above). Richard Nixon's lies about Vietnam didn't hamper his reelection, and it wasn't until his lies about Watergate became too egregious to bear that he had to step down. Ronald Reagan maintained his popularity despite lying about everything from the Panama Canal to stories about things that occurred in movies that he presented as real experiences. George W. Bush's dishonesty ran deep--remember that son of privilege telling us that he knew what it was like to have to put food on the table? Actually, he said "food on your family," but we knew what he meant. Remember him telling us in a State of the Union speech that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger, even though he knew it had never happened?
Yes, you might say, all presidents lie. And they do. In large part, however, they lie to keep us from finding out things we're not supposed to know. They have access to a lot of information that's classified--often for very good reasons--far above your pay grade and mine. Sometimes they lie about less important things. Those same Republicans who don't mind the lies mentioned above still become enraged that President Clinton lied about having an affair--a situation that affected absolutely nobody except those people immediately involved in it. And yet Newt Gingrich, who was having an affair of his own--and lying about it--while prosecuting Clinton for his lies, received millions of votes in this year's Republican primaries.
Point is, we seem to be getting more accustomed to greater levels of dishonesty, and some of us seem to actually welcome it. At any rate, we're not pushing back against it. We're not telling Romney he's disqualified because he's a constant, profligate liar. We're not, it seems, demanding that he pay any price at all.
I'm glad that I disagree so vehemently with Romney's policies (as far as they can be determined, given his opacity and dishonesty on that score), because I would not be able to cast a vote for him, even if I believed in every item on his agenda. I don't agree with his pessimistic vision of America as a country that's too impoverished to pay for research, for education, for a social safety net, for infrastructure, or pretty much anything but defense, because those who are already rich shouldn't be asked to pay a penny more into the system that has done so well by them. And I don't like lying, or being lied to.
People like Chris Christie and Cory Booker and Michael Bloomberg and Barack Obama and thousands of firefighters and cops and nurses and National Guard members and volunteers are reminding us, this week, of what America's supposed to be about. We are self-governed, which means we get to pick the men and women who lead us. Our responsibility doesn't end there--we need to remain involved in our communities, informed about issues, demanding of excellence from the government we put into place. When our brothers and sisters are hurting, we reach out to them.
Abraham Lincoln said it better than I can, in his first inaugural address:
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
Government can be capable, and it must be. Government can be responsive, and it must be. Government is of us, by us, and for us. Only through government action can we begin to recover from a disaster like Sandy.
But for government to do the things it must do, we must make the wisest choices possible about who will lead that government. Mitt Romney (though his campaign now says this is not his position--surprise, surprise) recently said it was "immoral" to put FEMA in charge of disaster relief efforts. That duty, he said, should be left to the states. Again, the businessman doesn't seem to understand economics. Had Katrina's costs been entirely in the hands of the affected Gulf Coast states--with their economies devastated by the disruption in oil production and tourism, their tax bases shrunken, and billions of dollars in emergency costs unanticipated by legislatures required by law to run balanced budgets--those states would still be in bankruptcy today. Not to mention that recovery and restoration efforts would have been required to stop at state lines--no, Alabama rescue team, you can't step into Mississippi to save that woman!
As the New York Times editorializes today, "A Big Storm Requires Big Government." A week from today we have to choose who will lead that big government for the next four years.
This is not a small choice to make. It's an important one. We had best choose wisely. Hint: Being the best liar is not a qualification.