Politics

08.22.12

Why Believe Romney Now, After His Lies on Medicare, Bain & Taxes?

The candidate this week added Medicare to his litany of falsehoods—on Bain Capital, his taxes, welfare, and debt, among many others. It’s now clear Romney will say anything. So why trust anything he says?

First, Paul Ryan placed Medicare on the chopping block. And amid the aftershocks of a bold and bad decision to put Ryan on his ticket, Mitt Romney this week also put Medicare on the lying block. Michael Tomasky is on target when he tartly observes that Romney is waging the “lyingest campaign ever”—and utterly demolishes the most “blatant” lie of all, that the president has gutted welfare reform. The third Romney ad leveling this charge brazenly cites a newspaper that was condemning the accusation.

The fabulation about welfare wasn’t just an expedient ploy for a candidate who was falling in the polls as he stumbled home from his malaprop-laden trip abroad. And the gyrations about Medicare weren’t just a one-off tactical response to a potentially mortal threat. Reckless disregard for the truth is a habit at the heart of the Romney enterprise. From the beginning, the entire campaign has been a calculated exercise in deceit. Its central rationale was conceived in a falsehood, that Romney the financial manipulator at Bain was a prolific job creator. The suspiciously round number was 100,000 jobs. The evidence? Romney never did disclose any records to back up his boast, and he took credit for hiring at companies long after Bain was gone from them—and he was gone from Bain.

Then, when the Obama campaign’s Bain ads hit, similar to the ones that upended Romney in a Senate contest with Ted Kennedy in 1994, the former governor was still unprepared, presumably unable to disprove the criticism or prove his self-defining claim. He retreated first to bromides about free enterprise, and more recently to a cop-out plea for an “agreement between both campaigns” to declare that attacks on “business or family or taxes” are off-limits. What’s family got to do with job-crushing profiteering, offshore tax havens, or Swiss bank accounts? It was Romney who ran on his business experience. Suddenly it’s unfair to talk about it.

He doesn’t want to talk about his taxes, either, although he finally and conveniently asserted that the returns he was refusing to disclose revealed he had always paid about “13 percent.” Now, that rate for a guy with an income of $20 million is hardly a profile in fairness. But if he did pay something more than 1 or 2 or 5 percent, or more than zero, then why not make the returns public? There’s more than a chance that his expedient reassurance is a ruse. As Ann Romney blurted out, the “reason we don’t disclose more is…it will just give them more ammunition.”

Video screenshot

Paul Ryan campaigns with his mother as he discusses Medicare in Florida.

From Bain to welfare and taxes, Romney’s bodyguard of lies wasn’t doing much to protect him. So he must have hoped that by announcing Ryan as his running mate, he could change the subject. It sure did. Instantly the focus shifted to the Ryan plan to “save” Medicare by destroying it, replacing the guaranteed benefit with a voucher plan that would cost seniors more, push many of them into private insurance, and force others into HMOs. This is not a path to victory in November. And in the ensuing controversy, the Ryan-Romney ticket—after all, Ryan is the substance behind the shape-shifter—looked like the Keystone Pols caught up in a mayhem of fraud.

One Republican operative, a genuine conservative who thinks Romney isn’t genuine at all, renders his verdict: “He doesn’t believe in anything but his own ambition.”

Romney had hailed the Ryan plan as “marvelous” during the primaries and pledged to sign it as president, a pledge one of his advisers reiterated the day after the Ryan pick. Just hours later, Romney tried to back off in an interview on 60 Minutes: “Well, I have my budget plan…and that’s the budget plan that we’re going to run on.” But that plan, it soon turned out, was not all that different. Or as Romney told a Green Bay radio station, “Paul Ryan's and my plan for Medicare, I think, is the same, if not identical—it’s probably close to identical.” You think? Can’t Romney ever talk straight? He’s not supposed to; as one of his strategists told Politico, it would be “politically unwise” to let voters see the “detail” of his proposal.

While dissembling about his own position, Romney counterfeited Obama’s, alleging in a hastily edited spot that the president “cut $716 billion from Medicare…[t]o pay for Obamacare.” Haste, and the taste of impending political doom lay waste to the truth. Obama didn’t cut one dollar from Medicare benefits, but payments to providers like hospitals with a poor record of patient care and insurance companies that have inflated the cost of Medicare Advantage, a Bush-born private supplement that suggests how inefficient and expensive for seniors Ryan’s vouchers would be. Moreover, the accurate figure for the savings is $500 billion; Politifact was moved to ask where Romney the vaunted numbers man found Obama cutting another “$200 billion while no one was looking.” Undeterred and determined to lie his way out of trouble with seniors, Romney doubled down. The president, he said, has “robbed” Medicare.

The other truth that has been trashed here is that the Ryan budget includes exactly the same savings that Obama signed into law. Ryan just uses the savings to lavish a tax bonanza on the top 1 percent. Obama uses them to prolong the solvency of the Medicare trust fund and to close the “doughnut hole” in prescription-drug coverage for Medicare recipients, which required them to pay 100 percent of their annual drug costs between $2,840 and $6,448. The difference here gives the lie to the Ryan-Romney ticket’s reassurance that their scheme would mean “no changes…for current seniors or those nearing retirement.”

First, by repealing Obamacare, the GOP duo would reopen the doughnut hole and cost millions of the elderly thousands of dollars.

Second, as Romney dug himself in on the $716 billion whopper, he tried to extract credibility from contrivance by promising to reverse the Obama “cuts.” He’s straining to leave the misimpression that this would benefit seniors when in truth it could leave Medicare insolvent by 2016, threatening a reduction in benefits sooner not later—and not for the next generation, but now. Yet there was the invincibly misleading candidate standing at a white board—what a perfectly corporate image—scrawling “Solvent” across it.

Third, the immediate Medicaid cuts that Ryan has proposed and Romney has endorsed would shred coverage for 6 million of the elderly, many of them in nursing homes, who account for 23 percent of the program’s cost.

As the Obama camp fired back on the airwaves with an indisputably accurate refutation of the notion that the president ever cut benefits, Ryan appeared in Florida alongside his mother acting out the National Republican Congressional Committee’s playbook, which advises: “Inoculate by pledging to secure and protect Medicare; use credible third-party validators (moms or seniors).” It was a cynical and duplicitous ploy to put a kindly face on a cruel and selfish policy. And of course, Ryan’s mother could afford to pay thousands more for prescription drugs—or an extra $6,000 for Medicare.

Expect a lot more on the Medicare front. The winner in this contest—between an accurate description of a plan the Republicans can’t defend and their disinformation about it, and the president’s position—is likely to win in November. And that’s because, as I’ve argued before and the last week has confirmed, Medicare has become the leading edge of the defining choice in this election: who fights for the middle class, and who favors the few?

As the Medicare battle intensified, Romney and his Republican allies took a little time to concoct another charge and then exploit it, with a leak that was a tawdry lie.

In response to the altogether obvious reaction that their crooked welfare ad had a racial subtext—look at that African-American president going easy on giveaways for you-know-who—the Romney campaign accused Vice President Joe Biden of using a “codeword.” His offense? He said Romney’s “gonna let the big banks once again write their own rules. Unchain Wall Street. Put y’all back in chains.” The accusation was risible coming from the party of the codeword, of Nixon’s “Southern strategy” and immigrant-bashing. It was also ludicrous since Ryan and House Speaker John Boehner have both invoked a similar metaphor, about “unshackling” the economy.

The controversy provided the pretext for Matt Drudge, Romney’s unofficial press secretary, to revive and flog another fiction, that the White House was anxious to force Biden off the ticket in favor of Hillary Clinton. The source? The pseudo-journalist Edward Klein, who was said to have “sources deep in the Clinton camp,” an incredible notion given that Klein has previously written a foul book about Clinton roundly denounced by liberals and conservatives alike. This “sordid volume,” this “trash” this “smear”, as conservative columnist John Podhoretz searingly described it, reported that Chelsea Clinton was the product of a marital rape.

Klein had no credible source then for his lowlife reporting, and he has none now for his latest excursion into political make-believe. As the secretary of state’s spokesman emailed The Weekly Standard: “Ed Klein’s motto is ‘If at first you don’t succeed, lie lie again.”

Of course Biden’s place on the Obama ticket is secure. The vice president is, as he was in 2008, a decided electoral asset in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. He connects with blue-collar Democrats, and he’s one of the president’s most trusted advisers. The purpose of the right wing’s exercise in sideshow fantasy was to disrupt the Obama campaign and to devalue Biden as a campaigner. I don’t think either ploy worked.

The episode was made out of a whole cloth, but it is another thread in the GOP’s scarlet fabric of fraud.

Doesn’t the other side do the same thing? No, Obama and his supporters don’t. The worst alleged against them is a super-PAC commercial in which Joe Stopic, a former steelworker at a company taken over by Bain, discusses the loss of his job and his health insurance, which left his wife without coverage when she had cancer. The story is more detailed than that, probably too detailed for a 30-second spot. But the bottom line is true: if Stopic’s job hadn’t disappeared while Bain and Romney made money, his wife would have had insurance when she needed it.

We ought to reject any false equivalence between the Obama and the Romney campaigns. There’s nothing in modern presidential politics that quite equals the audacity and scope of Romney’s long march of lies.

His first commercial in the primaries was a giant step into the dark side. It twisted a 2008 speech from Obama in which he was quoting “John McCain’s campaign” as saying: “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” The Romney ad excised the reference to McCain, leaving the impression that the words were Obama’s and the time was now. The spot was a finely edited piece of Orwellian double-speak straight out of 1984.

Or take Romney’s constant refrain that the president is responsible for “an inferno” of “debt and spending.” That’s flat-out wrong. Under Obama, annualized growth in federal spending has risen at the slowest pace in decades. Debt and deficits have been driven primarily by Bush’s tax cuts, Bush’s unfunded wars, and the Bush economic collapse of 2008. Despite the Obama stimulus, the rate of increase in federal spending was even higher under Herbert Hoover. And if the House GOP hadn’t stymied Obama, there would have been additional job-creating stimulus; the recovery would be more robust; and Romney’s prospects would be even more anemic than they are.

The list could go on and on. One Republican operative, a genuine conservative who thinks Romney isn’t genuine at all, renders his verdict: “He doesn’t believe in anything but his own ambition.” Maybe that’s why Romney will say anything. But why, then, should we believe anything he says?

I don’t think the country will buy this phony campaign from a patently phony candidate. He’s struggling despite the economic headwinds fanned by his own party’s obstructionism in Congress. So come this November, just maybe a re-elected Joe Biden will say, fairly and accurately, that our politics has been unshackled from Romney’s chain of lies.