Time to Try the "Romney Is Lying" Debate Strategy

One of the triumphs of Mitt Romney's performance in the first debate was that he told an enormous number of outright falsehoods (see here) with virtually no response from Obama, or at least no effective response. So one of Obama's challenges tomorrow night—perhaps the key challenge—is how to handle it when Romney says things that aren't true. What he can't do is what he did in the first debate, offer a muttering response filled with details and failing to emphasize his central point.

I realize there's at least some chance that the President is too busy to be reading this blog today. But just in case, let me offer a suggestion. What Obama needs is a set of responses that cover the topic at hand, but that all follow a single theme. He needs, to put it bluntly, a single phrase that he will repeat every time he's refuting a Romney falsehood. It could be something slogan-y, like "That's another Romney Reinvention," or could be something simple, like "Once again, Governor Romney thinks he can fool you and get away with it." It almost doesn't matter what it is, so long as he repeats it every time. The repetition acts as a signal to the viewers, linking that particular part of the debate to what they've already heard. This would not only make Romney's deceptions the headline of post-debate analyses, it would also probably freak Romney out a bit during the debate. As long as Romney knows that Obama's reaction to anything he says is going to be some weak, "Well, I'm going to take issue with you there," Romney can forge confidently on ahead, since people watching will have no idea who's telling the truth. But if he's wondering whether what he had planned to say on a particular topic is going to play right into Obama's hands and send him deeper down a hole Obama has dug for him, he won't be nearly so bold.

Let's take an example. During their last debate, one of the lies Romney told was that "pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan." When it came time for Obama to refute it, he said this:

But let's go back to what Governor Romney indicated, that under his plan he would be able to cover people with pre-existing conditions. Well, actually, Governor, that isn't what your plan does. What your plan does is to duplicate what's already the law, which says if you are out of health insurance for three months then you can end up getting continuous coverage and an insurance company can't deny you if you've — if it's been under 90 days.

This is just incredibly weak. Obama is correct about the details of what Romney's plan does and doesn't do, but nobody cares whether Obama knows the details of what Romney's plan does and doesn't do. That's something for the fact sheet your campaign puts out after the debate. What's important is that Romney was lying to make himself look like he cared about people and would help them, while the truth is that his plan would screw people. Obama knew the facts, so this should have been an opportunity for a confrontation that Obama would win.

He should have turned to Romney and said, "I'm sorry, did you just say pre-existing conditions are covered under your plan? With all due respect, I'm a little shocked that you would try to deceive people like that. You and I both know that your plan doesn't cover people with pre-existing conditions. It only does what current law does, which still lets insurance companies deny coverage to millions of Americans. Folks, this is one of the key differences between us on health care, maybe the most important difference of all. The law we passed, Obamacare, starting a year from January will make it illegal for insurance companies to deny you coverage if you have a pre-existing condition. Governor Romney believes insurance companies ought to be able to deny you coverage if you have a pre-existing condition. It's as simple as that. Now a minute ago, he tried to fool you into thinking he has the same position as I do. But he doesn't. He believes insurance companies ought to be able to say "tough luck" to you if you have a pre-existing condition. He just told you his plan does just the opposite, but what he said was false. Now Governor, maybe you just misspoke. Would you like to take some of my time to take that back? Maybe you might want to apologize?"

When Romney lies, what Obama needs viewers to take away from the exchange isn't that there's some dispute about the details of policy, but that Romney is lying. That isn't to say Obama shouldn't explain what the facts are, but when he does, he also needs to make a connection between this deception and the last one he called out, and the one before that and the one before that. He needs to have a rhetorical siren he can set off.

Rhetorical signaling is something Obama doesn't do nearly as often as he should, and he could learn from Bill Clinton how to do it well. Clinton's rhetoric is full of signals to his listeners that emphasize certain points. He's constantly saying, "I want you to pay attention to what I'm about to say," or "This is the important part," or "Here's what you need to understand." Especially for someone droning on the way Obama sometimes does, this kind of signal wakes the audience up a bit. And of course, the thing you follow it with has to be a clear, simple, strong point. Obama needs to create a signal that he repeats every time he catches Romney saying something that isn't true. He'll have plenty of opportunities, I'm sure. What I'm less sure about is whether he'll manage to use those opportunities.

Comments

While it would be good for Obama to more forcefully point out Romney's deceptions, there are risks here that you aren't recognizing. Having one candidate call the other out risks turning the affair into a he-said she-said muddle and turn off viewers- particularly those that would blame the President for making things acrimonious.
That may not be fair, but it's true- structurally most of the heavy lifting on GOP deception needs to be done via surrogates and (in theory, anyway) the neutral media.

Now, Obama can do work in a debate to gently-but-firmly reinforce those memes if they've already been planted in the minds of the viewers, but he will *only* convince the already-convinced if he jumps on his lectern and shouts "You lie!" It needs to be subtle. It needs to be straightforward. It needs to stick in the mind. It needs to call Romney out without giving him room for a bout of indignation to cloud the issue.

So I think the script you suggest is bluntly wrongheaded. It would feel great for Obama partisans to see something like this happen, but the results would not be those you expect.
Sidenote: I think this is why the first debate left Obama so flummoxed. He didn't anticipate the post-truth Romney showing up with an entirely new set of policies- something that should've caused a self-destruct of the GOP campaign in any rational election... Obama had laid the groundwork for the "Clash of Ideologies" Romney promised with the Ryan veep pick, not "Competence Governor Romney of Massachusets". Without groundwork, he couldn't really hit back properly, and was forced into doing the groundwork on the spot (ie pointing out the basic discrepancies and flaws, rather than capitalizing on known discrepancies and flaws with clever rhetorical flourishes). He needed a "there you go again" rather than a "here is why your plan doesn't add up".

Yep, go ahead and try the "lying" charge. Then Romney can bring up the whole Libya disaster. Now THAT is a good strategy! Then he can blame it on someone else (as usual)!

When. if ever will Obama start taking responsibility for his actions and policies? Or will he be known as The Irresponsible President?

The basic problem with your argument is that is misses the central point. We should be debating the substance of the ideas (similar and different) between the two candidates. One of the main differences between the two is how much involvment the government should have in our lives. How we define one insurance issue is silly. The political process is ideall suited to debate that minutia. Should the government be the central arbiter of our collective health insurance? Reasonable people can disagree about that issue. I think it would be a mistake for the president to call Romney a liar (or words to that effect). The president needs to prosecute his case for being re-elected. If he doesn't tonight (and I suspect he will not do for a number of reasons); he will most likely continue to fall in the polls.

The republican arguement for election is pretty clear; lower deficites, taxes reorganized to encourage job growth, means testing entitlement programs (something one would think our more liberal friends would be happy to hear), lower regulations (again to encourage job growth), and a reduced government involvement in health care.

What is the democractic responce? As far as I can tell it is; raise taxes on the rich, continue the policies that have lead to the current recovery (whatever those were), greatter government involvement in health care, oh, and demonize the oposition (hardly something that will encourage cooperation accross the aisle).

This is why the polls are moving towards Romney (if the early polls are to be believed in the first place). You may not agree with what Romney is saying; but trying to paint him specifically (and republicans in general) as liars is not only bad for our Republic, it is a strategic mistake. As a Romney supporter I hope the Obama administration continues to take this tact. It isn't going to be effective and may hurt the prospects for the democrats to hold controll of the senate.

With the Libya mess hanging over the President, this might not be such a wise move. Remember, as a kid, when were told: "When you point your finger at someone else there are three pointing back at you."

"Nobody died at Watergate". The Libyan coverup should, by rights, be the end of Obama. It is totally indefensible and he lies. How can that be defended and tolerated in a President of these United States?

The Democrats are desperately casting about trying to find something ... anything ... that will stick to Mitt Romney. I really hope they continue because such efforts are doomed to fail. Why? Because the Democrats have spent the past six months and untold millions of dollars trying to make believe that Romney is the devil incarnate because they can't run on their own record.

Mitt doesn't pay taxes.
Mitt abuses his dog.
Mitt beat up other kids when he was in high school.
Mitt hates women.
Mitt can't relate to ordinary people.
Mitt takes away health insurance from workers' families so their wives can die of cancer.

But that strategy fell to pieces two weeks ago when voters finally got a chance to see Mitt Romney for an extended period of time without the filter of a thoroughly biased media to distort their perceptions. Instead of Simon LeGree, what they saw was someone who was smart, eloquent, throughtful, respectful, and most importantly, human. In short, they got to see a very plausible alternative to another four years like the last four.

Obama's problem is that his "cult of personality" has now been shattered. He has had his "Look! The emperor has no clothes!!!" moment and all across the country, millions of people who voted for him in 2008 are slapping themselves on the forehead and saying "Jeez, what the hell was I thinking???" He's no longer "The One". He's now merely a president who hasn't made things any better in four years time, someone who was ridiculously unqualified for the office to begin with.

At some point, it's not sufficient to merely tell voters why they shouldn't vote for the other guy. At some point, you have to convince voters why they should vote for you, and in that regard, at some point you have to be able to point to actual results.

This is why Obama is now trailing and this is why he will ultimately lose.

A lie of prediction is when certain politicians and pundits claim that any proposal that 'experts' declare is not feasible or likely to succeed is therefore a lie.
Note that by that definition anyone who starts a business is guilty of a lie of prediction since it's just a fact that most businesses will fail.
A lie of history is when someone claims they did not support two wars when historic fact proves just the opposite.

yes, just because someone responds with disagreeing with your world view (govt is only solution that will save us from doom), that does not make someone a liar. Most americans recall the bit about "if you like your healthcare plan you can keep it" - this "lie" is much more real to their daily lives. I like Obama's strategy of calling his straw-man a liar. It seems to be working very well so far...for Mitt!

Gee, I can't remember. Who was it that said, "and if you like your health care plan, you can keep it!" That person is a proven liar right? So somehow that liar should be called out at the debate, don't you agree?

Obama needs more rhetorical signalling? Have you ever listened to the man speak? Here's tje formula:
1. Let me be clear
2. There are those...
3. Straw man
4. Successful takedown of straw man
5. Pause for applause

It just doesn't work in a debate. Which is why he lost.

Obama better be very very careful about any accusations of lying. There are always different interpretations in politics -- The two sides will never agree about Obama's welfare reform, the $716B taken from Medicare, and if tax cuts result in revenue increases. However, the Obama campaign throwing around the word "lie" given the debacle Obama finds himself in due to the Benghazi cover up of terrorism with that lame unsubstantiated video story could be a pretty precarious position for the President 3 weeks before an election - and the media is actually writing and talking about it. Romney may ascribe to political ideologies that Obama strong disagrees with but Mitt Romney is not a liar -- he is a good and honorable man. Obama, unable to run on his record has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on unsubstantiated character assassinations and distorting Romneys record and Presidential platform. Romney has spent his entire life working hard and being gracious and charitable and honest and humble. Obama bombed in the first debate not only for his nonchalant and unprepared attitude, but because voters figured out that the Franken-Romney the Obama campaign created was nothing like the actual man. There went $300M in ads up in smoke in 90 minutes. Obama has done his fair share of lying ( just ask Bart Stupak about that Executive Order Obama signed about no paid abortions in Obamacare that was subsequently ignored), about gutting the work requirement in welfare, about taking $716B from Medicare for Obamacare (not cutting benefits but short changing providers will ultimately hurt Medicare recipients). Beyond that Obama has no economic plans for a 2nd term beyond a tax increase on the wealthy that will pay for about 70 days of government spending and will cost 700,000- 1,000,000 jobs. Obama and his surrogates want more and more details from Romney regarding his tax and jobs plans while providing none of their own. Fortunately voters are asking the right questions and the first debate reaction proved it. We'll see if Crowley is a biased as Raddatz. Although it wont work as well as Romney will be more assertive and wont be deferential the way Ryan was.. but we'll see. Im sure 95% of the media have already written their Obama Was Fabulous in his 2nd Debate articles before the debates even started....

Romney is a serial liar, and completely incompetent as a public servant. Romney routinely lied as Governor of Massachusetts--He lied to BECOME Governor, since he was no longer a resident (he'd moved to Utah to try to take over Orrin Hatch's Senate seat). I think that the biggest failing of the Obama campaign is that they haven't trotted out Deval Patrick, the Governor after Romney who had to dig the state out of the fiscal mess that Romney created.

Remember these promises and lies when you get in the voting booth. Obama is a LIAR.
Would have the most transparent administration in History
Didn’t know Jeremiah Wright was Radical
Minimum Wage will increase to $9.50/hr
Obama campaign would accept public funding
No more wiretapping of citizens
Guantanamo bay to be closed within a year
I am not somebody who promotes same-sex marriage.
Unemployment rate will be 8.5% without stimulus.
Health Care deals will be covered on C-span
Cut Deficit in Half by end of first term
Obama says he’ll save average family $8,000 in gas
We shouldn’t Mandate the purchase of health care
The Health Care Package will pay for itself
We have run out of places in the US to drill for oil.
ObamaCare Fee is not a new tax
The health care bill will not increase the deficit by one dime.
Fence between US and Mexico is “Practically Complete”
My budget will cut the deficit by $4 Trillion over 10 years.
Romney and Ryan will gut pell grants for low-income college students.
I don’t Have Lobbyists
I’ll get rid of earmarks

KellyinBoston, the 'job killer in chief" residing in the White House is a pathological liar and an example, Benghazi is nothing but a stream of lies and
a total cover up. The democrat chickens are coming home to roost.

YES! Please Mr. Obama! Please DO try the 'Romney is Lying' strategy! PLEEEEEEEASE! Most people in American will see that argument, like the text of this article, for the hypocritical falsehood that it is. When that happens the landslide victory for Romney will be so overwhelming that even George Soros won't be able spend enough money to cheat America into election chaos!

I clicked on the link to "romney's lies" good lord what twaddle. The best argument against the historic increase in spending was "even the hapless hoover managed to spend more than obama." Yet another example that the prospect.org, like MOST lib/dim/prog people and organs SIMPLY ARE INNUMERATE.

When I read one comment about how Romney went to Utah to take the senate seat from Orrin Hatch, I laughed. Hatch and Romney are best friends, that never happened. In an article about lies, it is pure irony that Obama worshipers will believe anything they read in any blog that is anti-Romney. And for the author, your advice would be death to Obama's campaign. I do hope he takes it.

The President needs a simple way to communicate, "That's Rafalca leavings", without seeming crass or using the "l" word. So, how about references to "fact checkers" - "The fact checkers are going to have their work cut out for them with that one," "I'll have to leave most of that to the fact checkers, but let me describe how things really work," etc. - no need to use the "l" word. The "fact checkers" are poor at their job, but it lets the audience know what the President thinks of the statement and lets him move on to the points he wants and needs to make.

If Romney tries another patronizing 'My boys used to lie to me"-type trope, a response might be, "It sounds like they needed a better role model at home, to teach them not to do that." Probably too pointed when phrased like that, but....

A few jabs, for when the moment arises? "Mr. Ryan compared you to Vice President Biden, saying that things come out of both of your mouth's 'sideways'. But I'm not seeing the similarity. Mr. Biden says what he thinks, he does it in public, and he stands behind what he believes to be true even if the politics are wrong."

"How do you know what's in my plan? Once again, as with my Tax Plan, you ASSUME to know what's in FUTURE Legislation. Time Travel is IMPOSSIBLE, Mr. President."

So yeah. Go ahead and say it.

Remember these promises and lies when you get in the voting booth. Obama is a LIAR.
Would have the most transparent administration in History
Didn’t know Jeremiah Wright was Radical
Minimum Wage will increase to $9.50/hr
Obama campaign would accept public funding
No more wiretapping of citizens
Guantanamo bay to be closed within a year
I am not somebody who promotes same-sex marriage.
Unemployment rate will be 8.5% without stimulus.
Health Care deals will be covered on C-span
Cut Deficit in Half by end of first term
Obama says he’ll save average family $8,000 in gas
We shouldn’t Mandate the purchase of health care
The Health Care Package will pay for itself
We have run out of places in the US to drill for oil.
ObamaCare Fee is not a new tax
The health care bill will not increase the deficit by one dime.
Fence between US and Mexico is “Practically Complete”
My budget will cut the deficit by $4 Trillion over 10 years.
Romney and Ryan will gut pell grants for low-income college students.
I don’t Have Lobbyists
I’ll get rid of earmarks

The only problem here is that none of the example "lies" here are lies. Each of these claims that the Obama campaign has put forth against Romney has already been debunked by Fact Checking organizations. As one of those "undecided" voters, I am curious. Lets assume that Romney is lying as he says. How does he justify so viciously calling Romney terrible things and yet so easily ignore all the lies Obama has and is continuing to tell. What makes him any different than Romney. Certainly not the change I voted for.

The Romney song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvTIphPnDM8

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