As Greg Sargent, Steve Benen, and others have amply demonstrated, Mitt Romney has a problem with the truth. Throughout his campaign, he has openly lied about his previous positions, his beliefs, and the records of his opponents, Republican or otherwise. In a speech today on economic freedom at the University of Chicago, Romney continued the trend, building a mostly substanceless case against President Obama on the basis of half-truths and falsehoods. You can read the whole speech if you’d like. For now, I’d like to highlight a few passages that sum up Romney’s case against Obama in fact-free aplomb. First, there’s this:
For three years, President Obama has expanded government instead of empowering the American people. He’s put us deeper in debt. He’s slowed the recovery and harmed our economy.
There are a few things missing from this account. First is the fact that the Great Recession began in 2008 and was already on its way to reach its nadir by the time Obama took office. By the time the stimulus began to take effect, the economy was well on its way to the bottom, and independent analyses agree that the administration’s policies kept the country out of a depression, even if it wasn’t enough to juice the recovery.
What’s more, neither the stimulus nor the administration’s later policies were responsible for the deficit explosion of 2009 and 2010. The recession—and the drastically reduced tax revenues it produced—was responsible for a good portion of the deficit. The rest was the result of Bush-era policies like tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As economist Mark Thomas points out, government spending under Obama has increased at a lower rate than under Reagan, George H.W. Bush, or George W. Bush. The only president to have a lower rate of spending was, you guessed it, Bill Clinton.
On to the next passage, which is brazen in its disregard for the truth:
President Obama has proposed raising the marginal tax rate from 35% to 40%. He has proposed special breaks for his favorite industries, further increases for businesses he dislikes, and endless credits and subsidies intended to shape our behavior in this society. […]
If you invest your savings in a new business and are one of the fortunate few who see success – and make a profit – President Obama wants to take 40% of it.
President Obama wants to restore marginal tax rates on the rich to where they were before George W. Bush took office. While the American public might not understand marginal tax rates, it’s almost certainly true that Mitt Romney has a handle on the concept. Which means that the former Massachusetts governor is lying to his audience when he says that “President Obama wants to take 40 percent” of your income. An increase in marginal tax rates, or even a millionaire’s surtax, would only apply to income over a certain point. If the Bush tax cuts were repealed, and the top marginal rate went up to Clinton-era levels for income over $250,000, then it’s only the $250,001st dollar that would be affected.
Beyond that, the claim that Obama has proposed tax increases for “businesses he dislikes” only makes sense if you include policies designed to lower rates and broaden the tax base. “You could portray the president’s call to remove subsidies for oil and gas companies that way, and also his call to end the carried-interest loophole, which benefits hedge funds and investment companies,” says Michael Linden, director for tax and budget policy at the Center for American Progress. You might disagree with those policies, but Obama isn’t playing favoritism.
On that note, here is how Romney concludes his speech:
But, now, after spending three years attacking business, President Obama hopes to erase his record with a speech. In a recent address, he said that, “We are inventors. We are builders. We are makers of things. We are Thomas Edison. We are the Wright Brothers. We are Bill Gates. We are Steve Jobs.”
The only thing that’s true here are the quotes from Obama. The rest? False. Here are some excerpts from speeches the president has given over the last three years (all emphasis mine).
All across America, even today, on a Saturday, millions of Americans are hard at work. … They are the more than half of all Americans who work at a small business or own a small business. And they embody the spirit of possibility, the relentless work ethic, and the hope for something better that is at the heart of the American Dream.
Government can’t guarantee success, but it can knock down barriers that keep entrepreneurs from opening or expanding. […] This is as American as apple pie. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. They are central to our identity as a nation. They are going to lead this recovery. The folks standing beside me are going to lead this recovery.
As part of the bipartisan tax deal we negotiated, with the support of the Chamber, businesses can immediately expense 100 percent of their capital investments. And as all of you know, it’s investments made now that will pay off as the economy rebounds. And as you hire, you know that more Americans working will mean more sales for your companies. It will mean more demand for your products and services. It will mean higher profits for your companies. We can create a virtuous circle.
[I]f you’re an American manufacturer, you should get a bigger tax cut. If you’re a high-tech manufacturer, we should double the tax deduction you get for making your products here. And if you want to relocate in a community that was hit hard when a factory left town, you should get help financing a new plant, equipment, or training for new workers.
The point is simply to say that the only Barack Obama who has spent his presidency criticizing business is the Barack Obama that exists in Mitt Romney’s head. Indeed, the same goes for this speech, and his entire campaign—Romney is running against policies that haven’t happened and an Obama that doesn’t exist. Exaggeration is normal in politics, but this goes beyond garden-variety embellishment—Romney’s speech, along with much of his rhetoric, is a remarkable work of staggering dishonesty. So far, he hasn’t really suffered for it.