When Mitt Romney named Paul Ryan as his running mate, we were told we were going to get the Big Debate on the Big Questions we’ve all been waiting for. Well, so far, it isn’t quite working out that way. The distinguishing fact of the Romney-Ryan campaign thus far is the extent to which it is built on outright lies in a desperate attempt to avoid honest debate at all costs. The Romney-Ryan strategy is the farthest thing in the world from a Big Debate. Instead, they muddy the waters as much as possible and lie as much as possible, and hope the press doesn’t call them on it and hope voters buy it.
The most blatant lie about Obama concerns the welfare rule change, which the Romney campaign is still pushing in a new ad. The Romney ad campaign says exactly the opposite of what the new rule stipulates. PolitiFact called the first Romney ad “Pants on Fire,” and Glenn Kessler gave it four Pinocchios. But now here they come with a second ad saying that Obama “ended the work requirement.” Plainly and provably not true.
This is not normal. Normal is to stretch the truth. The Obama campaign stretches the truth in trying to connect Romney more directly than it should to Bain-related layoffs that happened after 2002. That’s your basic reach, and the campaign has been called on it. But it’s not a total lie. There is some little grain of truth there, that “Mitt Romney’s company” oversaw such-and-such layoffs, as there usually is in attack ads, even the most vicious ones. The Willie Horton ads were, after all, true. Racist, but true. But the Romney welfare ads have no grain of truth at all.
Okay. Just making stuff up about the other guy is bad enough. But it is in terms of past and future positions that what Romney-Ryan are doing really plows new and dishonorable earth. What’s happened on Medicare in the last week is just jaw-dropping. Did Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer and the folks at AEI lust for a huge philosophical throw down on Medicare solvency? Did they want a ticket that would courageously say to America, as Ryan used to say, that we just can’t afford to pay for all this anymore, and you, America, must now choose between the conservative truth-tellers and the liberal softies who will just tell you what you want to hear?
I think they wanted exactly that. But that sure isn’t what they’re getting. Romney and Ryan are both turning somersaults to say that they are this big government program’s true protectors. Ryan even dragged his mother into it over the weekend! And as for Romney, it is just astonishing to hear him stand up as he did last week and whack Obama for cutting $716 billion from Medicare while lavishing praise on Ryan, whose Medicare plan from last year cuts exactly the same $716 billion (and then some), and say that he and Ryan are going to save Medicare, unlike that nasty Obama.
The truth, of course, is that Ryan’s premium support plan would devastate Medicare because it would slow the increased spending to a rate well below the rate at which health-care costs have been rising in recent years. In polls like one the Kaiser Family Foundation commissioned earlier this year, even majorities of Republicans don’t want Medicare restructured along Ryanesque lines. These guys may not be able to count, but they can read polls, and so they know very well that if they gave the county the honest debate we were told we were going to have about Medicare, and for that matter about taxation, they’d wake up Nov. 7 with about 120 electoral votes in their pockets and conservatism in tatters.
They know this. They know that the truth would crush them electorally. And so it follows that they know they must lie. They must lie about their Medicare plans. They must lie about the effects of their tax plans on average people and rich people. And they must tell a number of lies about Obama, all the better if they involve race, as the welfare lie does.
So this will be the entire point of the Romney-Ryan campaign. Lie lie lie. Muddy the waters. Turn day to night, fire to water, champagne to piss. Peddle themselves as the precise opposite of what they actually are. That is clearly the m.o.
This is the case for two reasons. First, it is forced on them historically. Ronald Reagan could get away with sunny generalizations about supply-side economics because in 1980, it was just a theory. Now, after George Dubya, it’s been utterly discredited in practice. Conservatives still must believe these absurd things—that lower tax rates will produce more revenue—but now we know they’re not true, so they have to lie about them. And second, it is simply in Romney’s weasely nature never to say anything forthright about any topic.
The Democrats’ job, of course, is to expose this charade for what it is and make Romney and Ryan defend their actual positions. The Obama campaign was a little slow to respond on Medicare, and even then the ad wasn’t as forceful as it might have been. It’s probably true that there’s a reservoir of good faith there—that is, most people simply aren’t going to believe that the Democrats want to harm Medicare. That should work to the Democrats’ advantage, but still, the Obama campaign and the Democrats generally have to nail these guys to the wall on what their actual positions are and what the impacts of their policies will be. Romney and Ryan are terrified of a real Big Debate. Obama and Biden need to drag them into one.