Will Mendacity Win?

Looked at from a certain angle, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has been a grand experiment in whether it's possible to lie your way to the White House. Sure, all politicians stretch the truth like Play-Doh. They dissemble. They exaggerate. They tell the occasional out-and-out whopper. Traditionally, though, politicians tend to stick with truthiness, in the Colbert sense. Until now, there’s never been a presidential campaign built almost solely on a foundation of lies. Romney’s people have made no bones about it; his pollster, Neil Newhouse, told media at the Republican National Convention, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers." Strangely, that might have been the single most honest statement to come out of the campaign.

Romney has lied about Obama raising taxes on the middle class. He’s invented an overseas “apology tour." He’s sworn up and down that the president cut $500 billion from Medicare. He's claims that under Obama, the federal government will control half of all American industry. He's falsely asserted, over and over again, that the president has dismantled Clinton’s welfare work reforms. He’s tried to turn the auto bailout into a case of Obama “bankrupting” the car companies. The list goes on—so long that blogger Steve Benen has assembled no fewer than 917 examples of “Mitt’s mendacity.” And when he's called out, he doubles down. The great mystery, of course, is why—why, running against a fairly unpopular president with a fairly lousy economy in a politically divided country, would the challenger choose to abandon truth in such wholesale fashion? Only Mitt's God, or his shrink, can probably answer that question. 

Frighteningly, until the past week, it didn’t seem to matter much. Some folks have been bothered, but they tend to be Obama people. “I’ve never—old as I am—seen a politician lie as much,” Cleveland voter Charles Stewart told the Prospect’s Clare Malone on his way to vote yesterday. “Just lie outright. Everybody varies the truth—you may stretch it from A to B, but he stretches in from A to Z.” But it’s conceivable—sweet irony!—that Romney’s last big lie could cost him the election. The ad in Stewart’s home state that makes a wild accusation that Jeep is transferring jobs from Ohio to to China has backfired mightily; as Paul Waldman writes, the campaign seemed to “forget that Chrysler and GM have their own interest in maintaining support for the bailout”—and would not stay silent about the Romney claim. They haven’t; neither have Ohio newspapers (of all ideological bents).

If this thing comes down to Ohio, as it might, a narrow Obama victory might be attributable to the very dishonesty that has seemingly, ominously, served Romney well. On the other hand, if Romney’s grand experiment pays off on Election Day, David Corn at Mother Jones just might be right: Campaign 2012 could mark “the end of political truth.” Or, rather, truthiness.

So They Say

“Tomorrow, we begin a new tomorrow. Tomorrow, we begin a better tomorrow. This nation is going to begin to change for the better tomorrow. Your work is making a difference. The people of the world are watching. The people of America are watching. We can begin a better tomorrow tomorrow, and with the help of the people in Florida, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”

Mitt Romney, campaigning this morning in Sanford, Florida 

Daily Meme: The End of the Election as We Know It

  • We're finally here, folks! It's less than 24 hours before the polls start closing on the East Coast, and pundits are so antsy that they can't wait for the returns to come in to start making sweeping pronouncements about the end of the race and the post-election world.
  • Larry Sabato says Obama looks poised to win 303 electoral votes if he sweeps Virginia, New Hampshire, and Colorado—a lucky number for Dems given that Harry Truman and JFK had the same tally.  
  • Rush Limbaugh predicts Obama is definitely going to lose, because the Redskins lost last night too. 
  • Peggy Noonan thinks Romney is "stealing in 'like a thief with good tools,' in Walker Percy’s old words. While everyone is looking at the polls and the storm, Romney’s slipping into the presidency. He’s quietly rising, and he’s been rising for a while." 
  • Steve Kornacki says we can't count out a 2008-esque Obama victory. 
  • According to the kids' election at Madame Tussauds today, Obama should start readying for that landslide.
  • Fred Barnes is convinced that the challenger will win, because although things look tied and there are a lot of variables in the air, it'll be Romney, duh, because of a lot of fact-free insinuations. 
  • Dick Morris thinks Romney will win 325 electoral votes, "It will be the biggest surprise in recent American political history," Morris said. (No kidding!) "It will rekindle the whole question on why the media played this race as a nailbiter where in fact Romney’s going to win by quite a bit." 
  • Jim Cramer thinks Obama is going to get 440 electoral votes … further proof that his predictive prowess leaves something to be desired. 
  • Jane Mayer interviewed many old political hands who think the hurricane turned the tides in Obama's favor once and for all. 
  • Nate Silver's thoughts on the hurricane theory? Meh. Obama's been gaining steam for quite some time. 
  • Jonathan Martin thinks an intra-party war in the GOP is on the horizon regardless of who wins tomorrow.
  • And regardless of who wins, they will be forced into a corner by the same confused and imperiled Republican Party. 

What We're Writing

  • Steve Erickson: “Our response to the Obama presidency has been a national psychotic break.”
  • Scott Lemieux: “The No-Brainer Progressive Case for Obama.”

What We're Reading

Poll of the Day

Over the weekend, the Prospect’s Jamelle Bouie ran the numbers on the swing states—by averaging the polling averages. The “meta-margins” look promising for Obama, particularly in the critical Midwest. Check it out, especially if you need bucking up.

For more polling information, go to the Prospect’s 2012 election map.

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