Lies, damned lies and politics
Reality is the issue in the presidential campaigns
Perhaps you have read about, if not seen, Mitt Romney’s latest TV campaign ad. Mr. Romney, keep in mind, is the responsible GOP contender, the grown-up in the room, the calm voice on platforms otherwise crowded with gibbering idiots. He also is the candidate who, for those reasons, the GOP rank and file seem loathe to have represent them. Faced with that fact, Romney, being Romney, has decided to out-McConnell, out-Gingrich, out-Baumann, out-Trump, out-Cain them all.
Romney’s ad shows a clip of Mr. Obama saying, “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” The voice was Obama’s but the words were those of an aide to John McCain. The clip was from coverage of Obama’s 2008 campaign, when Obama said of McCain, “His campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’”
In my opinion, if we don’t start talking about the ways that our newspapers and television networks report politics, we’re all going to lose. Flat-out lies like Romney’s are now the common coin of political “debate.” The right has convinced itself on the very strongest of evidence – mainly, that the world does not agree with them – that the American public is fed a diet of falsehoods and distortions manufactured by a compliant media for the benefit of left-leaning layabouts and loonies. The playing field having already been tilted to favor the left’s lies, they reason, it is imperative to tilt it back again by adding an equal weight of lies onto the other side of the scale.
I do not point my finger as a partisan. (I backed the Democrat in 2008 because he is a moderate Illinois Republican of the sort that has always been produced by a state that is a place of no edges and thus all middle.) My bias is in favor of reality. The gap that matters is not between Red and Blue but between the very poorly educated – Mencken’s American booboeisie – and the almost educated. The latter accept the sanctity of the fact. They accept, even if they don’t always perfectly understand, that science is not a set of conclusions about the world but the best proven way to find out about the world. And they accept that two and two always make four even when you are adding up an opponent’s budget.
The indifference to facts is perhaps the most astonishing trait of the GOP field. Several GOP contenders in debate have warned that Ben Bernanke has pursued dangerously inflationary policies. The U.S. has seen less inflation under Bernanke than any Fed chairman since the Great Depression. Social Security is indeed going broke – very slowly. Raise the payroll tax by a lousy one percent over the next 20 years while you raise the amount of wages subject to it by $150,000 and the Social Security Trust Fund will be solvent – forever.
There is no evidence – none – that big tax cuts stimulate the economy and lower the deficit. Mountains of data on federal tax revenues after the Reagan and the Bush tax cuts confirm that it didn’t happen then. Won’t happen next time. To believe that is not to be partisan, it is to be informed.
The economy is not shrinking (although it’s not growing fast enough). And no, it is not true that 47 percent of the U.S. public pays no taxes. It is true that 47 percent pay no federal income taxes, mostly because they are too poor to owe any. They do pay sales taxes and excise taxes and property taxes and payroll taxes. The number of people who lie about how many people pay taxes, however, is at record levels.
Enough. It is not the media’s responsibility to damn a Mitt Romney as a knowingly dishonest and thus dishonorable candidate. I can do that myself. It is entirely their responsibility to inform when he is being an inaccurate one. Alas, “fairness” as currently conceived by our colleges of communication, demands that a reporter scrupulously give one candidate’s lie and her opponent’s truth equal air time. The major media thus are neutral in the same way that a coward hiding under the table during a bar fight can be said to be neutral.
If I want the media to do a better job – and why they are not doing that job is a topic for another column – it is as much in the hope that they will correct the mis-impressions of the candidates as those of the public. The GOP contenders, and too many of its congressional leaders, have elevated lies from a unsavory campaign tactic into a world view. And if there is no politician less savory than he who abuses the truth to get power, there is none more dangerous than he who cannot distinguish the true from the false.
Contact James Krohe Jr. at KroJnr@gmail.com.