There is a spectrum we all recognize in political debate: first is fact—verifiable, objective reality. Then there is spin—a partisan interpretation of that reality. And then there’s 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 in Congress, 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 that 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, demonstrably untrue.
Perhaps the most egregious lie is that Obama has been a big spender—that under his administration, spending is “out of control.” Actually, as Rex Nutting reported in MarketWatch (a web site affiliated with that known liberal outfit The Wall Street Journal), 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, which was passed by Bush but spent during Obama’s first year in office.
Romney repeatedly says the President “promised to bring unemployment below 8%,” 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 Bain were so outsized he has had to walk them back.
There’s Romney’s widely criticized campaign ad featuring a recording of President 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.
More recently, Romney “quoted” The Escape Artist, a book about the Obama Administration, for assertions the book never made—the author has been making the rounds of political television rebutting Romney’s “quotes” (and happily suggesting that people buy the book to see for themselves).
There are plenty of other examples of persistent mendacity; so many, in fact, that there are a couple of websites cataloguing 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 Dr. Martin Luther King? His “memory” of that event was only corrected 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.