Politics and Pathology

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.


  1. Alas, I heard somebody on MSNBC this morning saying that we were now in the “post-truth: era if American politics. I think you’ve likely provided the leading edge of Exhibit A for that proposition.

  2. Amen, Don! And we’re not even close to November yet! Just wait!

    Thanks, Sheila, for calling out Romney and the rest of the r’s on so many points. As my daddy used to say, “The truth’s not in that man!”

  3. I know this won’t come as a surprise, but FactCheck.Org has been just as diligent pointing out the fallacies of Obama’s campaign as they have Romney’s.

    Also, Rex Nutting’s numbers and accounting methods were obviously found wanting. Even if we say that spending hasn’t increased that substantially under Obama, he has still failed to meet every single campaign standard he has set in regard to the budget deficit and the debt. Every time they patchwork something that’s going to cost an extra few hundred billion they say it will “pay itself off” or it’s “deficit neutral.” Which is the same load of horse dung his predecessors shoveled.

    The Journal-Sentinal wing of FactCheck has an ongoing analysis of Obama’s campaign promises. At 20 per page and 25 pages you get an idea of how many promises were made during the campaign. By my estimates he’s at about 50% promises kept vs. promises broken. What I fail to grasp is that he could have done whatever he wanted during the first half of his term (federal employee collective bargaining among other things) and he didn’t. Spin that…

  4. I fear that Mitt will actually gain traction amongst the uneducated and gullible, which are in a majority here (and elsewhere) and that his smear campaign might actually unseat BHO. THEN WE ARE REALLY IN TROUBLE.

  5. By gullible do you mean people claiming as fact deficit numbers that completely exclude Obama’s first year in office, chalking it up to the previous administration? When in fact he had party majority in both houses and did in fact sign off on it anyway with no complaints?

    Oftentimes news sources prey on the believability of a target audience. Regardless of the circumstances, critical thinking needs to be employed if people don’t want their information spoon-fed to them. I applaud this fellow for being able to push through some pro-Obama rhetoric on a traditionally conservative platform. I really do. That doesn’t make it true..

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