Lies Are the New Truth

Being a campaign surrogate isn't easy. You have no say in what the candidate you favor or his campaign decides to say or do, yet you're called upon to defend their words and actions. That can put you in an extremely uncomfortable position, unless you're Newt Gingrich.

Yesterday, Newt went on Anderson Cooper 360 to talk about Mitt Romney's new welfare attack ad, which falsely accuses Obama of ending work requirements in welfare, and what he said was truly remarkable, even for him. Now, let me be absolutely clear about something. I've been paying very, very close attention to political ads for a long time. In my former career as an academic I did a lot of research on political ads. I've watched literally every single presidential general election campaign ad ever aired since the first ones in 1952. I've seen ads that were more inflammatory than this one, and ads that were in various ways more reprehensible than this one (not many, but some). But I cannot recall a single presidential campaign ad in the history of American politics that lied more blatantly than this one.

You can get the details on those lies here or here, but it's something quite rare in politics. Usually candidates deceive voters by taking something their opponent says out of context, or giving a tendentious reading to facts, or distorting the effects of policies. But in this case, Romney and his people looked at a policy of the Obama administration to allow states to pursue alternative means of placing welfare recipients in jobs, and said, "Well, how about if we just say that they're eliminating all work requirements and just sending people checks?" I have no idea if someone in the room said, "We could say that, but it's not even remotely true," and then someone else said, "Who gives a crap?", or if nobody ever suggested in the first place that this might be problematic. But either way, they decided that they don't even have to pretend to be telling the truth anymore.

To get back to Newt, here's what happens when someone is questioned about it. Newt's argument is—and I'm not exaggerating here—that although the Romney ad makes false claims, that's OK because Barack Obama and those who work for him are, in Newt's opinion, the kind of people who would gut work requirements if they could, so therefore it's OK to say that they are actually doing it, even though they aren't.

We accept a lot of ridiculous spin in politics, but this is something entirely different. If you look closely, you can see the gaping hole where Newt's soul used to be:

Comments

This is the silliest thing ever. A flood of Republican Governors ask for more flexibility to set work rules for welfare recipients, and they get it. Then they're pissed because the new legislation doesn't say it only applies to Republican states... Once again, the GOP jumps off the edge of reason.

Re: Gingrich Soul

That hole's been there since he filed for divorce of his first wife in 1980.

Paul is right about how serious this is. It's not just in the paid ads, it's also in the public statements of candidates. Worse still, it's in their basic policy positions. How can Mitt Romney both pretend to be sane and intelligent, and run on a platform of repealing Obamacare?

It was so poignant to hear his campaign's reply to the Dem SuperPAC ad: "if that poor man were in Massachusetts, his wife would have had insurance." From Romneycare, of course. How True! And how execrable to say so, as Romney's more perceptive supporters were bound to observe.

In the academic world, the concept of truth itself has been under strain for decades. I think that study is healthy, and eventually we will end up with a family of concepts including truth, evidence, reasons, etc, which will allow us to conduct public discussions. Unfortunately, for now I'm afraid I agree with Mitt that some subjects can be discussed only in quiet rooms.

In the meantime, I'm sincerely relieved at the shock value of Romney's public lying. I no longer believe he has a serious chance of being elected, and I'm turning my activism toward down-ticket races.

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