What Romney did is no different from what Limbaugh, Hannity, etc. do every day - and that's become the model for political debate in this country, at least when Republicans get the mike. The Villagers are mostly good with that - they don't want to be accused of liberal media bias after all.
So, what to do? There's an old saying "A lie can go halfway around the world while The Truth is still putting on its boots." A few thoughts on how to get those boots on and start kicking butt below the Orange Omnilepticon.
The Liberal Media - Isn't
Anyone who is a regular visitor here by now has seen and read many examples of the way the press fails to do its theoretical role of "comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable." There's just no money in print journalism these days, and the commoditization of the press into corporate minionship works against it. The traditional role of broadcast TV has been diluted by proliferation of cable channels, and the direction coming from corporate owners that news as entertainment is more profitable than news as information.
Local stations (TV and Radio) are susceptible to the corruption of money even without mega-corporate ownership. The amounts of money being spent on attack ads this time of year is a stimulus program in its own right - which raises questions about just how likely stations are to vet those ads for accuracy. Add in politicians willing to make direct threats to stations that don't cooperate, and the implications are clear.
And then there's FOX and the right wing monopolization of talk radio. The whole purpose of FOX from day one has been to discredit the rest of the media as biased. It's in their mission statement. Talk radio even more so; a regular feature of their programs is how the rest of the liberal media is lying to America - and only they have the 'truth'. Let anyone in the media, any public figures call THEM out for bias though, and a total shitstorm ensues. Intimidation is their game, and it works.
The one media bright spot? Comedy. The Colbert Report, Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, The Onion, and the like. In a world increasingly dominated by rich, powerful people with a lock on power, comedy is reviving the role of Court Jester. You CAN speak truth to power in today's media - as long as you're getting them to laugh while you do it. So far, efforts by the right wing to come up with something comparable have been pretty lame where they haven't been outright cruelty-fests. See, one of the ingredients that can make for effective comedy is empathy - and they haz not gotz.
But comedy alone is not enough to win wars - or Bob Hope would have gotten a Nobel Peace Prize.
Let Romney Debate Romney
The problem with calling out Romney on his lies, mis-statements, half-truths, and omissions is obvious. As noted above, the right wing simply turns it around and throws it right back - and the clueless press lets them get away with it. Here's an example from This Week that shows it happening.
KRUGMAN: When you say my [plan] covers pre-existing conditions when it doesn't and when your own campaign has admitted in the past that it doesn't, what do you say? That's amazing.That's the problem with challenging these people on their lies - they just talk louder, faster, and accuse you of the same or worse. And while the truth is putting on its boots, they're already moving on to the next set of lies.
MATALIN: You have Mitt characterized -- and you have lied about every position and every particular of the Ryan plan on Medicare from the efficiency of Medicare administration to calling it a voucher plan, so you're hardly...
KRUGMAN: It is a voucher plan.
MATALIN: You are hardly credible on calling somebody else a liar. Here's what else...
So, the obvious answer is to let Romney debate Romney. There are
dozens innumerable statements, claims, and promises made by Romney over the course of the campaign where he's reversed himself, refused to answer, or just bobbled the issues. If the Obama campaign isn't putting together a series of ads of Romney clips showing him etch a sketching his way through the campaign, they deserve what happens to them - even if the rest of us don't.They've made a start, but more can be done. Jed Lewison has a perfect example here.
To my way of thinking, there should be minimal commentary - keep the focus on Romney and show his constantly changing positions on every issue that counts. End with a simple question, like "Which Romney is going to show up on election day? Does anyone know?" Or something like "You don't have to take anyone else's word that Romney will say anything to get votes - just take his." You could do an entire commercial just from the first debate of Romney contradicting himself - sometimes in the same answer!
It would be easy to work in a Star Wars reference - how about a riff on Clone Wars where multiple Romneys duke it out? Or, if you want to go way back, how about an endorsement from Joe Isuzu?
And this should work with Ryan as well - ever since he got drafted as Veep, he's had to walk back or run from his earlier statements all the time. There's plenty in there to hang around his neck. Not to mention making an issue of all the details neither he nor Romney will reveal. (Obama did make a start on that at least.) How about a commercial mocking the "secret ingredients" that make their plans so special? You could do a pretty good parody of that Bush's Baked Beans commercial featuring Seamus instead of Duke, threatening to reveal secrets...
The Center Cannot Hold - So Stop Chasing It Already!
All this is well and good, but there's a larger problem - the curse of centrism. Paul Krugman summed it up pretty well on This Week.
PAUL KRUGMAN, NEW YORK TIMES: This is classic Obama. He really, really wants to be the president of national unity. He's always wanted to be the reconciliation candidate and his instincts always in confrontations is to not go for the jugular but to go for the capillaries. He doesn't -- did the same thing in 2008. People forget just how weak his campaign was through August of 2008 when he just was refusing to make the obvious case against McCain and then he toughened up but also...The only national unity the Republicans and Romney are interested in is Borg-like total assimilation - the complete destruction of the Democratic Party, everything it has accomplished, and everything it stands for. They have zero interest in finding common ground with Democrats on anything. Obama's attempts to blur the differences are futile; nothing is more likely to provoke a strong counter-reaction.
STEPHANOPOULOS: In the debate he toughed up in 2008.
KRUGMAN: Because he needs to be -- have his head against the wall.
So this was classic. This was him - this was the real Obama who does not like -- he really wants to be a president of the whole nation. And he somehow has a hard time wrapping his mind around the necessity to take a tougher line.
There's a conviction among centrists in the Democratic Party and the Villagers who populate the Sunday Talking Head Shows that America wants bipartisanship. If they could arrange a joint-presidency, they'd be in ecstasy; lambs would lie down with lions, and all would be perfection. (At least, as long as the supply of lambs holds out.)
There's the idea that neither party can win with its base alone, but must attract independents to achieve the margin of victory. Democrats of the centrist variety aren't truly happy unless they can demonstrate they're willing to piss on their left wing to prove their good intentions. They're always looking for concessions to make to enlist the other side for the good of the country. At some level, they wish Ronald Reagan was still president and it was morning in America.
It's not an idea the Republican Party embraces. They kowtow to their extremists, and attract independents by portraying the Democrats as the reason for everything that's wrong with America. Ronald Reagan couldn't win a primary in their party today - too liberal. Instead of accepting Democratic concessions in good faith and making some of their own in return, they double down on their opposition and move even farther to the right. It wasn't Democratic opposition to the Bowles-Simpson plan that derailed the 'grand bargain' to balance the budget by screwing the middle class in exchange for token tax increases on the rich - it was solid Republican opposition to any tax increases at all. (And thank God for that! Bowles-Simpson would be a disaster of wrong-headed austerity.)
Connect the Dots, Attack the Brand
The BIG problem with centrism is the Republican Party keeps moving the center. Democrats end up playing by their rules, by their talking points, on their turf. Is it any wonder they keep losing ground? The Overton Window has been pushed so far to the right, it's now on a foreclosed McMansion 2 blocks down the street. At this point Obama and the Democratic Party should stop chasing the GOP and start emphasizing the differences between the two parties. Frankly, the G.O.P. has become so extreme, a lot of Republicans would be and are ready to try sanity for a change.
Democrats - and Obama - need to do what Republicans have been doing for decades: attack the brand, not just the people pushing it. Romney is just the symptom of the disease afflicting America. Go for the root. Start calling them out for being extreme and start moving away from them. Stop using Republican framing on the issues. Can we PLEASE stop talking about tax cuts and spending cuts as the only possible answers to our problems? Can we STOP treating the DEFICIT as our biggest problem when millions need work, our economy is staggering towards recovery, and it will never be cheaper to do massive infrastructure spending?
Let's start hitting up some talking points to connect dots. Show what Republican promises really mean. Reagan promised that getting government off our backs would make us all richer - show who has gotten all the gains in the last 30 years - it hasn't been the middle class. Tell people that just "growing the pie" is not the answer to their problems if the big slices all go to the people at the top and all they get is the crumbs.
Show how Republicans like to cut taxes - the top end gets the most, the rest trickles down and the REAL tax cuts for the middle class are because they're not making as much money to pay taxes on. Their wages have been cut, their jobs have been shipped overseas, and their bargaining power has been taken away. And the rich are now demanding they give up Social Security and Medicare "because 47% of them don't pay taxes."
You want to get really down and dirty? Don't just make commercials showing Romney talking to his rich patrons in Boca Raton - add this video to it, to remind everyone Romney is just following in a long Republican tradition of sucking up to the rich.
What makes it too easy for the Romneys of this world to talk total bull shit and get away with it is the narrative they've created to support it. Cadillac Welfare Queens! Willy Horton! Job Creators! Tax and Spend Liberals! Big Government Bad! Private Enterprise Good! Anchor babies! Liberal Media! Job-Killing Green Energy! Drill Baby Drill! Socialism! Terrorism! Obama Phones! Death Panels! Live Within Our Means! Shared Sacrifice! Unregulated Lady Parts! War on Religion! Gays!
As has been pointed out, Romney 'won' the debate by lying his ass off. The media ignored how he did it to inflate what he did into an epic defeat for Obama - and kept playing up that angle until that's become the verdict. The reluctance of Democrats to hammer the Republican brand the way the right wing media machine trashes them all the time is what makes it so easy for the press to do this.
It's time for the truth to put on its boots and start kicking ass.