A liar. (Reuters/Darren Hauck)
I'm not sure what it would take to get the press to notice this as being an overriding campaign theme, but it has to be said yet again: Mitt Romney is a huge
liar. His newest full-tilt campaign push has been based entirely on lambasting Obama for something Obama never said. We saw it again in his VFW speech
, which did away with any pesky notions of foreign policy in favor of the same (and I do mean the same) anti-Obama accusations that have served as the cornerstones of his thoroughly dishonest campaign.
There's the "Obama apology tour" lie. It's been debunked six ways from Sunday, it was debunked long ago, the press has frequently noted its dishonesty, and the only evidence that the president ever did anything remotely resembling an "apology tour" was apparently plucked from the same place that Agenda 21 and other modern conservative fantasies come from. Still, Mitt Romney continues to repeat it. Why? Has it really not ever been pointed out to him that one of his main talking points is a fiction, or does he just not care? And what, if anything, has been the price extracted by the press for a presumptive nominee for the president lying repeatedly about something?
There's the lie that America is less well liked under President Obama than under President Bush. That's not just a lie, it's a freaking delusion. The Bush presidency was infamous for the pressure it put on otherwise stalwart allies, for the unwillingness to consider international opinion, for a bitter dispute with France over France not doing what we wanted them to do quickly enough or unquestioningly enough—Good Lord, I'm not sure there's been any administration in modern American history that caused more tension in the international community. But Mitt sticks to his guns, asserting sans-evidence that Obama is more disliked, merely because he says so.
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There's the Hezbollah lie. Apparently, Barack Obama is retroactively responsible for 30 years of Hezbollah history in this hemisphere, a feat which is only possible if you subscribe to the Mitt Romney understanding of time and space. This one seems to have been pulled directly from the ranks of the worst conservative conspiracy theorists, who have spent the last few years convincing themselves that Mexico and all countries south of it have been positively overrun with Muslim terrorists, thus allowing "build a giant border fence" to better be sandwiched into the War on Terror. Since I don't believe for a moment that Mitt Romney knows the first thing about international terrorism, I'm going to just assume his staff put this one on his TelePrompter one day and he's been reading it without question ever since.
So if there is one thing we can determine from Mitt Romney's foreign policy speeches, it is that Mitt Romney's foreign policy is a staggeringly dishonest enterprise. (I wonder if that is one of the reasons we have seen the Bush administration's ridiculous John Bolton pop up as prominent Mitt foreign policy adviser, while other Bush heavyweights like Rice and Powell have been conspicuously absent. Some sense of shame involved there, could we hope?) I can fully see a Mitt Romney administration holding up a vial of fake anthrax and showing clip art of suspicious-looking trucks; I can also fully see them denying they ever did it, retroactively, and bitterly demanding all the television cameras stop showing that thing that retroactively never happened.
All of that, however, has been merely an afterthought compared to Mitt Romney's big push, attacking the president non-stop for supposedly saying businessmen did not build their own businesses, when the actual clip clearly, and I mean very, very clearly, shows the president saying that businessmen did not build the "roads and bridges" that help support their business. For the Mitt Romney campaign to make a weeklong push involving speeches, special appearances, and freshly cut ads all based on a clipped, patently fraudulent version of the event shows just how wedded to dishonesty the campaign has become. It apparently never even entered their heads to stop pushing the doctored premise after it was clearly exposed as doctored, which it was within the first few hours. And why would it?
We do not know all that much about how Mitt Romney conducted himself in business. The campaign has gone to some lengths to ensure we do not learn all that much about it, either. We can only assume that the Mitt back then is the Mitt we see now, and it is difficult not to surmise that in making his millions upon millions of dollars, he did so in large part by being a dishonest son of a bitch. If his public behavior is to lie often and shamelessly, even when the whole world knows he is doing it, I can hardly imagine what he would be like in his private business dealings. As hard as it is to imagine immorality on the part of someone who would purchase companies, decimate their workforces and still make off like a bandit after leaving the company in bankruptcy ... yeah, I don't know how to finish that sentence. Suffice it to say that if Mitt fills out his tax forms like he fills out his campaign speeches, I can see why he's so determined not to let anyone in the press see so much as a single pre-campaign decimal point.
The central point is this: Mitt Romney is running a staggeringly dishonest campaign, one that traffics repeatedly in known lies. Why is that, itself, not more of an issue? Our political standards have certainly gone down the crapper in recent decades, but centering an entire campaign around falsehoods seems like one of those things that all the sensible political villagers would, in theory, get more than a bit miffed about. Pundits like very much to project an air of moral authority (and God help us all, they are true experts on how the rest of America should live) but even when the neutral press clearly identifies flat-out lies from the campaign, there has been next to no response from the various heavyweights of punditry who typically make political civility their utmost, if not singular, concern. Why? Where are the earnestly penned chastisements of this new low in political honesty, no moral scoldings about the outrageousness of a campaign premised on flamboyant, repeated lies? In a political landscape obsessed with civility, is there no room left for opinions on honesty?
This one can't be penned on the press. The fact checkers have been calling out the lies, and even the most cautious reporting outlets have devoted the occasional space to excruciatingly polite calling-outs of some of the most egregious bullshit. The problem is that the pundit and otherwise-expert classes as a unit have, as of yet, absolutely no interest in policing the honesty of the candidates, even as they lavishly scold the lower classes for their opinions on bankers, or populism, or economic austerity, or any of the other masturbatory moral fetishes that occupies the village mind. The same crowd that was mortally wounded by Bill Clinton's mere otherness, when he first came to town, has not a damn thing to say about a modern candidate whose campaign has revolved around a series of profound dishonesties. Crackpot theories and false claims have always been present, in politics, but as fringe elements—now we are apparently content to endorse them as legitimate political practices even among supposed party leaders.
We might be able to blame the tea party crowd for some of this, as the tea party devolved into conspiracy theories almost as soon as it was formed. We might be able to pin more than a bit of it on the swelling ranks of midlevel political operatives who, from junk mail to junk phone calls, have made a certain seedy crookedness a hallmark of every campaign. There was Sarah Palin and "death panels," a bold and dramatic and astonishingly paranoia-based lie that was deemed legitimate by most of the pundit class apparently on the sole basis of its lovely political effectiveness. Donald Trump can question the president's very Americanness, and he will even receive a Statesman of the Year award for doing it. There is no end of places to point the finger, and at every step even the most flagrant dishonesties can be forgiven or dismissed by the swath of pundits who most agree with the desired outcome of the lie, because dishonesty is not a policed political crime. No matter where the source of each conspiracy theory or political slander may come from, it is the pundit class itself that gives their sacred blessings to the acts.
So here we are. Mitt Romney can go on for a week based on an edited fabrication that every damn person involved knows is a fabrication, can devote his campaign resources almost exclusively towards the premise of the lie, and there is apparently no press institution or morality-policing pundit who will observe that maybe, just maybe, an unapologetic public liar is not a person qualified for the presidency of the country. He can repeat a lie such as the Obama apology tour over and over, an absolute vapid nothingness of conspiracy drivel, and at no point will any of the watchdogs of political discourse observe that he must be a profoundly dishonest fellow, to keep repeating such a thing even when he has an entire staff of people who ought to know full well that it has never once been true. Is there a limit to how dishonest you can be, in politics? Or is this what is now known as running the nation like a business, where little irritations like honesty or legitimacy can go straight to hell, if there's profit in sending them there?
I don't blame the Mitt Romney campaign for being flagrantly dishonest. They would have been stupid not to have learned the political lesson preached to them by our Guardians of Discourse, which is that you can lie as boldly and as often as you like. We might, however, at least tar those guardians with the same brush. If Mitt Romney is being treated as a legitimate, serious figure by individuals who are not put off by his continued pattern of saying things that are blatantly and obviously not true, than our Guardians of Discourse can only be similarly devoid of morals as well. And if that is the case, it is all the more reason to dismiss the full lot of them. If we cannot even expect honesty from our politicians, I fail to see how any of the rest of the discussion matters a damn bit.