On March 23 I posted a story on the abject willingness of many, including Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, to misrepresent the actions and policies of President Obama. One takeaway from this is that a willingness to lie, with the belief that one will not be held accountable, has escalated in recent years. And yes, it has coincided strongly with the Republican party's jaw-dropping turn to the right. Lying, in other words, has become a calculated risk, part and parcel of campaign strategies, embedded in speech, spin, and soundbites.
Lying and the overall bullshit factor are on the increase in part because the media lets it happen. More fundamentally, we see a political party that is desperately trying to discredit a remarkably scandal-free sitting president, and has resorted to demeaning and hateful rhetoric known to work with a voter base that scores low on information but generally high on authoritarian personality scales.
And of course, Republicans know they are facing unfavorable demographic trends. A rational person would think the party would want to embrace a wider swath of voters and give them compelling reasons to vote Republican. Instead, that party's politicians and operatives resort to strident and inflammatory rhetoric. They do not know what else to do because they are scared of the future, and they have embraced an inflexible and unsustainable ideology that has boxed them in. They cannot offer up real solutions without violating party dogma. In such an environment, it is no surprise that the candidates feel they are justified in lying, slandering, and misrepresenting opponents. If you want to win, you can't be squeamish.
Take Mitt Romney, who, despite everything, is still likely to be the Republican nominee. It would be an understatement to say I have a problem with this class warrior, the choice of oligarchs everywhere. It isn't the Mormon thing, per se, even if that makes some Republicans squirm. After all, Romney's acceptance of magic underwear or Joseph Smith's inane story of the golden plates is not any less credible than Santorum's belief in transubstantiation or papal infallibility.
It is mostly because Romney has the interests of the one percent at heart; a Wall Street First kind of guy who thinks gutting social programs and further shifting wealth to the very top is viable policy.
But on a more personal level I am offended by a man who now feels the lying is an acceptable campaign tactic. Adultery and divorce no longer carry the social stigma they once did, much to Newt's relief, so why should bald-faced lying?
The video below shows Rachel Maddow discussing Romney's honesty issue. As she says, "there is something different" about Romney and his campaign, well beyond the usual twisting and distorting we find with most candidates, the kind we long accepted as the nature of hard-ball politics. Maddow gives specific, undeniable, calculated lies, and then notes the indifference the Romney camp shows when it is caught.
These examples are not mistakes or gaffs; everyone makes those and everyone deserves to be cut at least a little slack when they make them, especially during an exhausting primary race. Maddow's very reasonable question is to ask whether Romney's chronic, almost pathological willingness to lie, even when he knows fact-checkers can easily call him out, is now a leading indicator of where American politics is headed, a new standard of cynicism and calculated manipulation.