For Democrats, the 2012 presidential campaign has produced some delicious ironies. For starters, Mitt Romney's share of the final vote will come in at a memorable 47 percent, the same figure he used to disparage half the electorate as self-described "victims" bought off by "free stuff" and "gifts" from President Obama.
But for pure schadenfreude, nothing approaches the cosmic payback of the Republicans' self-delusion on Election Day. That is, while most polling analysts predicted a comfortable Electoral College triumph for Barack Obama on Nov. 6, by all indications Team Romney and the GOP brain trust truly believed their own cooked-up numbers. That's what makes their subsequent shock and awe at Romney's crushing defeat all the more fitting. Because after years of slandering President Obama and misleading voters with myths about taxes, debt, health care, Iraq and so much else, on Election Day Republicans duped only themselves.
To be sure, that karma starts—but certainly does not end with—Mitt Romney himself. The man so fond of proclaiming "I love data" was no friend of the truth. His gymnastic flip-flops and mind-bending mendacity aren't merely the stuff of legend, but produced a burgeoning cottage industry. (Just ask MSNBC's Steve Benen, whose chronicles of Romney's lies topped 970 entries and 40 volumes.) Virtually every major talking point Romney regurgitated—that Obama "made the economy worse," that Obama "doubled the national debt," that "you built that," that Obama "guts welfare reform," that a rescued Chrysler was moving Jeep manufacturing jobs to China—was demonstrably untrue. It's no wonder Romney's pollster Neil Newhouse described his campaign's guiding principle this way in August:
"We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers."That policy made Mitt Romney the perfect front man for the Republican Party. After all, when the number two Senate Republican Jon Kyl admitted in April 2011 that his demagoguery of Planned Parenthood was "not intended to be a factual statement," he could have been describing most GOP sound bites uttered before or since.
That includes the gamut of what might be called the GOP's tactical lies, untruths designed to smear the president, his party, and their policies. Amplified by Fox News and the right-wing echo chamber, these frauds are transformed into conservative certainties. For example, this week Public Policy Polling found that "49% of GOP voters nationally say they think that ACORN stole the election for President Obama," an impressive figure given the organization no longer exists. Seventeen percent of registered voters and 30 percent of Republicans still believe Barack Obama is a Muslim. As Election Day approached, roughly half of GOP voters believed Obama was not born in the United States, with another quarter unsure. As it turns out, Mitt Romney eagerly courted the Birther vote, not just by accepting Donald Trump's cash and his endorsement, but with statements like this August joke in Michigan:
"Now I love being home in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born. Ann was born in Henry Ford Hospital. I was born in Harper Hospital. No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised."Other articles of tea party faith are just as bogus.
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The Affordable Care Act contained no "death panels," a falsehood Politifact chose as the 2009 "Lie of the Year." By maintaining private doctors, private hospitals and private insurers, Obamacare certainly did not represent a "government take-over of health care." (That was Politifact's 2010 "Lie of the Year.") In 2009, 59 percent of conservatives and 62 percent of McCain voters expressed the oxymoronic view that government should "stay out of Medicare." The next year, 44 percent of tea party supporters claimed President Obama raised taxes, despite having delivered tax relief for 98 percent of working households, the largest two-year tax cut in modern U.S. history.
And their bad math hardly ends there. In 2009, teabaggers wildly sand-bagged the estimates of the crowd they gathered for their march in Washington, D.C. As Nate Silver explained in "Size Matters, So Do Lies":
ABC News, citing the DC fire department, reported that between 60,000 and 70,000 people had attended the tea party rally at the Capitol. By the time this figure reached Michelle Malkin, however, it had been blown up to 2,000,000. There is a big difference, obviously, between 70,000 and 2,000,000. That's not a twofold or threefold exaggeration -- it's roughly a thirtyfold exaggeration.As destructive (if sometimes comical) as the GOP's tactical dissembling may be, its strategic lies are even more sinister. The Republican agenda depends on their acceptance by the much of the press and public alike. Without these myths, the entire edifice of Republican ideology would come crashing down.
The way this false estimate came into being is relatively simple: Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, lied, claiming that ABC News had reported numbers of between 1.0 and 1.5 million when they never did anything of the sort. A few tweets later, the numbers had been exaggerated still further to 2 million. Kibbe wasn't "in error", as Malkin gently puts it. He lied. He did the equivalent of telling people that his penis is 53 inches long.
On no issue is this truer than on taxes. For the three decades that began with Ronald Reagan's tripling of the national debt, Republican snake-oil salesmen have insisted "tax cuts pay for themselves." That uber-lie of the Republican Party is no truer today than when Arthur Laffer's curve was first sketched on the back of a napkin.
In 2004, President Bush confidently proclaimed, "You cut taxes and the tax revenues increase." As it turned out, not so much. Federal revenue did not return to its pre-Bush tax cut level until 2006. As a share of American GDP, tax revenues peaked in 2000; that is, before the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities concluded, the Bush tax cuts accounted for half of the deficits during his tenure, and if made permanent, over the next decade would cost the U.S. Treasury more than Iraq, Afghanistan, the recession, TARP and the stimulus—combined.
The tax cut mythology hardly ends there. GOP orthodoxy notwithstanding, small increases to upper-income tax rates won't hurt economic growth or "crush" job creators. The estate tax impacts virtually no small businesses or family farms. And contrary to the tall tales of conservative lore, low capital gains tax rates don't fuel investment in the American economy, but instead produce greater income inequality. All of which means that GOP tax policies have only served to drain the U.S. Treasury while padding the bank accounts of the wealthiest Americans who need it least. There are only two certainties in the lives of Republicans: debt and tax cuts.
President Obama's stimulus program, too, has been a target of successful Republican strategic disinformation. While conservatives have fostered the perception that the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was a "failure," the numbers and the overwhelming consensus of economists—including the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and John McCain's chief economic adviser from 2008—show the stimulus not only boosted employment and GDP, but saved the American economy from disaster. As Mark Zandi of Moody Economics put it, federal intervention prevented "Great Depression 2.0."
Of course, the Republicans' "necessary" lies—necessary to sell their own policies while discrediting Democratic programs—extend to health care as well. Some, like the claims of George W. Bush, Tom Delay, Mitch McConnell and Mitt Romney that "no one is denied health care in America" because "you just go the emergency room," are laughable on their face. But when the CBO found that the Affordable Care Act would reduce the national debt, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor accused the nonpartisan scorekeeper of "budget gimmickry." As Ezra Klein wrote in response, "Repealing health-care reform would cost hundreds of billions of dollars—and Eric Cantor knows it."
Republicans are aware that this looks, well, horrible. So they're trying to explain why their decision to lift the rule requiring fiscal responsibility is actually fiscally responsible...That may be why Newt Gingrich, who as Speaker of the House eliminated the Office of Technology Assessment in the 1990's, last year called for abolishing the CBO as well. (That the Congressional Budget Office showed that the Paul Ryan House GOP budget plan to voucherize Medicare would dramatically shift costs to seniors won't make the agency any more popular on the right.)
What's important about Cantor's argument is not that he's wrong. It's why he's saying something he knows to be wrong. There are plenty of reasons to oppose the health-care reform bill. You might not want to spend that money insuring people, or you might not think the legislation goes far enough in reforming the system. But as a matter of arithmetic, using the math that Congress always uses, the bill saves money. It cuts enough spending and raises enough taxes to more than pay for itself, both in the first 10 years and in the second 10 years.
Where needed, Republicans have also turned to pseudo-science to marshal support for or opposition to public policy. On global warming, which Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe called "the greatest hoax" ever perpetrated on the American people, Republicans have convinced themselves and much of the public that the overwhelming scientific consensus is simply wrong. And when it comes to its quest to erase women's reproductive rights, conservatives have deployed bogus theories about "fetal pain," nonexistent links between abortion and breast cancer, and mythical "post-abortion syndrome." Sadly, that last debunked right-wing talking point formed the basis for Justice Anthony Kennedy's shockingly paternalistic opinion in the 2007 Carhart v. Gonzales case.
The GOP's dangerous deceptions are not limited to domestic policy. After all, President Bush did not invade Iraq to promote democracy; he promoted democracy because he invaded Iraq. As you'll recall, Rice (Condoleezza, not Susan) warned the American people about Saddam's nonexistent WMD in 2002, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." In June 2005, Bush was still perpetuating the mythical Iraq-9/11 link, declaring "we went to war [with Iraq] because we were attacked." As late as March 2009, Bush's press secretary Ari Fleischer was continuing the fraud:
"After September 11th having been hit once how could we take a chance that Saddam might strike again? And that's the threat that has been removed and I think we are all safer with that threat removed."It's no wonder that nine years after the invasion of Iraq, 63 percent of Republican surveyed (compared to 27 percent of independents and 15 percent of Democrats) still believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Last year's America Public in the 9/11 Decade reported that 38 percent believed the United States had found "clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the al Qaeda terrorist organization."
And so it goes.
"Reality," Stephen Colbert famously told President Bush in 2006, "has a well-known liberal bias." Unfortunately, that hilarious truth is a problem for Republicans like Bush who want to "catapult the propaganda." That's why, as Ron Suskind reported back in 2004, Republicans decided they needed to "create our own reality." As Seinfeld's George Costanza put it:
"It's not a lie...if you believe it."That may have worked for the GOP during the 2010 midterms, but in 2012 voters weren't buying it. Instead, it was Mitt Romney and his Republican Party that got played for suckers. Heading into the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 6, they were buoyed by what they perceived as momentum, certain about their bogus polling numbers, and confident that Mitt Romney would be elected the 45th president of the United States. They were instead, as neoconservative godfather Irving Kristol memorably put it, "mugged by reality." As Jerry Seinfeld would say, "that's gotta hurt."