Over the last few weeks any inhibitions Romney had about lying his way to the Oval Office completely vanished. The sheer shamelessness, cynicism, and outright psychopathy driving these lies are astounding in light of the fact that disposition toward integrity used to be a key qualification for an electable President.
The blatant lies are not the greatest danger. Romney regularly misleads through equivocation, which is a lot more difficult to refute because part of the process of equivocation takes place in the head of the audience.
e·quiv·o·ca·tion [ih-kwiv-uh-key-shuhn]During the last century people came to realize that the obscure workings of math and science could have an impact - perhaps a deadly impact - on their everyday lives. There was a tremendous effort to popularize math and science and enable the average reader to deal with complicated ideas. C.P. Snow attempted to break down the barriers between the two cultures became one of the most influential books of the 20th century. Hundreds of books joined in the campaign to teach "math to the million".
The use of equivocal or ambiguous expressions, especially in order to mislead or hedge; prevarication.
Romney's lack of need for reference to the truth has been read as a shift from sustainable values to situational values. It's easy to be angry at Romney for bombarding the American people with lies: it's a lot harder to understand and change a gullible culture where everyone seems to think there is something in it for them if they help perpetuate the lies.
Last week Romney made a classic equivocation based on the word "redistribution":
I know there are some who believe that if you simply take from some and give to others then we’ll all be better off. It’s known as redistribution. It’s never been a characteristic of America. There’s a tape that came out just a couple of days ago where the president said yes he believes in redistribution. I don’t. I believe the way to lift people and help people have higher incomes is not to take from some and give to others but to create wealth for all. (source)Redistribution in the political sense doesn't necessarily mean "take from some and give to others". Redistribution can mean allocating resources more fairly. Redistribution can mean sharing or trading resources to gain a larger return of investment for everyone. Redistribution can take place over time: we can redistribute resources to education to give our children greater life chances - and ultimately reap the fruits of a skilled society and prosperous children who can support their elderly parents. Any intervention the government makes in the economy is a form of redistribution - and that includes tax breaks that redistributes resources to wealthy elite "job creators" and corporations.
In previous months Romney would have relied on the audience to provide the most ominous. knee-jerk meaning of "redistribution". Now in a state of political desperation, Romney has resorted to filling in the blanks: "redistribution" is taking from some (Us) and giving to others (Them). Imposing a definition turns an equivocation into a lie, so luckily Romney set himself up for direct refutation on that one.
Other recent equivocations are trickier to deal with: playing bait-and-switch with types of taxes and how many people pay what kind (when he probably believes taxes are just a game anyway), transforming the TANF program into a mythical beast called Welfare, slamming Obama for bringing up the concept of shared credit in building America but then using "WE built that" for his own slogan, releasing manipulated "average" tax information instead of individual returns to stand for what he himself paid, dying his skin orange before speaking to a Latino audience, confusing Obama's policies with his own outsourcing to China, and all the claims Obama has failed to "work with" the
deliberately obstructionist GOP. And here's a few more from a Romney equivocation-watcher.
One of the most famous platitudes of all time is "knowledge is power". It follows that disinformation, or polluting the common well of knowledge, is disempowerment. Romney tells lies to divide people, so he can consolidate a group of "his" voters against a scary strawman enemy constructed from his own lies. The more smoke bombs he can throw, the more disoriented people will be as they grope their way to the voting booth.
The American spirit has been defined in many ways - rugged individualism, entrepreneurial, give us liberty or give us death. There is another particularly American quality that hasn't received as much scholarly attention. We hate to be played for chumps. We take particular pride in being able to spot cons. We admire and celebrate the savvy - those people with street smarts, those people in the know about office politics. We are more ashamed of being gullible than of being mean and selfish.
Romney's lie-festooned breakdown is not about him: it's about the voting public who let him get this far. We seem to be unsure whether we want principled leadership. No matter how bad our lives get, the politics that define our environment just seem too complicated. Millions tuned in for FDR's weekly radio Fireside Chats. Today only uber-wonks regularly watch C-Span, Obama's Weekly Address doesn't get a fraction of the views as i are cute kitten. The more active citizens try to get the word out, the more the average people feel like they are drowning in noise.
Americans hate to be played for chumps. They are not trying to be willfully ignorant: they are just tired of trying to sort through all the lies - and under those conditions it's easy to get a lie repeated three times to sink in. We need to carve out a space in our lives for political education and participation (let's call it "on the job training"). Perhaps there should be a civics component every year of grade school, starting from Kindergarten. Perhaps there needs to be more focused communications and public education campaigns to explain what's going on to "the million". Perhaps there needs to be more "coordination" roles to help various parts of government communicate with and educate each other, and to help them work in concert to serve their constituents.
A couple of days ago I wrote a diary about how the deliberate obfuscation surrounding welfare goes hand-in-hand with exacerbating racism. The more I think about it, the more I think just making the welfare system more transparent would alleviate racial tensions and single-handedly demolish half the "truthy" talking points of the GOP. We need to unmask the "Them" and reveal that They are Us, part of an American community with equal rights under the law. There should be a major communications and education campaign to make the welfare system as well-known as the food plate and how to prepare for the zombie apocalypse.
Restoring the truth - particularly the truth about a racial flashpoint like welfare - is important. Restoring the truth needs to become a cause - it needs to gain traction somehow. Once people realize they are being consistently conned, and worse personally suffering from the GOP con, they will demand a way to get back in the know, to be savvy and protect themselves. The lies are creating a market for the truth: progressive Democrats just need to find the channels to meet that demand.
I have never worked for any branch of the government, and I have no political connections. I don't even know where to start to make civic education and government transparency a cause. Perhaps we need a Transparent Government Tsar dedicated to enabling people to participate in our democracy and navigate the labyrinth of government programs and institutions.
I hope the comments will produce better ideas.
“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”
― Gloria Steinem