There is a spectrum we recognize in political debate: first is fact. Then there is spin. And then propaganda—flat out lying.
All politicians engage in spin that sometimes crosses the line into propaganda. The Romney campaign, however, seems constantly to operate in propaganda mode.
What are the differences? Under spin, we might list things like Romney’s constant complaint that Obama hasn’t negotiated a “single trade agreement.” The president has revived agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama that had been stalled, but these aren’t technically new agreements.
Romney promises to see the Keystone XL Pipeline built and implies that its construction would mean more oil for America, although pipeline owners have been clear the oil is meant for Asian markets. Accusing the president of “apologizing for America” requires taking a lot of words out of context, but even this stretch probably falls within the typical political spin cycle.
Other pronouncements, however, are categorically untrue. Perhaps the most egregious lie is that Obama has been a big spender—that spending is “out of control.” Actually, as Rex Nutting reported in MarketWatch, you’d have to go back to the Eisenhower administration to find a rate of federal spending growth lower than that of the Obama administration. That conclusion holds even if you include the stimulus.
Romney says the president “promised to bring unemployment below 8 percent,” but reporters have been unable to find a single instance of Obama making such a statement. He insists that repealing Obamacare will reduce the deficit, in the face of widely accepted Congressional Budget Office calculations demonstrating that repeal would vastly increase the deficit. Romney’s claims about job creation at his investment firm, Bain & Co., were so outsized he has had to walk them back.
There’s Romney’s widely criticized campaign ad featuring a recording of Obama’s voice making a boneheaded remark about the economic meltdown—a recording conveniently “clipped” to remove the lead-in phrase: “Mr. McCain even said… .” When confronted with this clear distortion, Romney admitted the president was quoting McCain, and laughed it off; worse, he has continued to run the blatantly misleading spot.
Recently, Romney “quoted” “The Escape Artist,” a book about the Obama administration, for assertions the book never made.
There are plenty of other examples of persistent mendacity; so many, in fact, that a couple of websites catalog them. But the lies that mystify me are not those obviously motivated by political ambition and/or a calculation that a weakened media won’t notice. What mystifies me are the unforced, totally gratuitous lies.
Remember when Romney said he’d been a hunter in his youth? And then had to walk that assertion back when reporters could find no record of the permit he claimed to have held? Or his insistence that his father, George Romney, (whom I greatly admired) had marched with Martin Luther King Jr.? His “memory” of that event was corrected only when photos surfaced placing the elder Romney somewhere else on the date of the supposed march.
Romney’s habitual, almost compulsive make-believe is provoking considerable comment. Time magazine recently ran a pop-psychology article titled “The Root of Mitt Romney’s Comfort with Lying.”
Lying of this magnitude, I submit, is not political. It’s pathological.•
Kennedy is a professor of law and public policy at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI. She blogs regularly at www.sheilakennedy.net. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send comments on this column to email@example.com.