There’s something a little off about Mitt Romney. With the economy still staggering and unemployment topping eight percent, the challenger should be running away with this election. Yet heading into the Republican National Convention in Tampa in late August, the national polls remained tied or showed President Obama with a slight lead, with the incumbent consistently running ahead in most swing states. Romney’s approval rating had sunk to 40 percent of registered voters (35 percent of independents), with 51 percent disapproving, an ABC/Washington Post poll found, the lowest numbers for any presidential candidate in over 30 years.
It’s as if the electorate has some sort of collective dog sense, warning, ‘Be wary of this guy! Given the chance, he just might strap us all to the roof of his car and take us on one hell of a queasy ride.’
It could also be that the Romney campaign is brazenly, demonstrably dishonest—a campaign that is now paddling around happily in the cesspool of tribal race-baiting.
Romney’s un-truth-apalooza has gone on now for over a year. Here are a few fact-checking hits:
“He [Obama] didn’t cause this recession,” Romney told an Amherst, N.H., crowd in June 2011, “but he made it worse.”
When NBC producer Sue Kroll called Romney on this charge a few days later—pointing out that the economy was now growing, the stock market was up and unemployment was coming down—Romney’s response was, “I didn’t say that things are worse.”
Does the man not grasp the concept of video?
His campaign certainly seems to, at least when the goal is distortion. In Romney’s very first commercial last November, we hear the president’s voice warning, “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.”
But as the New York Times reported Nov. 22, Obama said this during the 2008 race and he was quoting a McCain representative—details left out of Romney’s ad.
In June, there was Romney’s whole Hogan’s Heroes Sgt. Schultz routine about all the companies his brainchild Bain Capital led to financial slaughter and all the jobs shipped overseas for the further enrichment of its already stinking-rich investors.
“I know nuth-thing,” Romney seemed to say. All that unpleasantness, he explained, happened after 1999 when he’d severed all ties with Bain and— superhero tights and cape donned—blasted off to rescue the Salt Lake City Olympics.
But the Boston Globe published kryptonite July 12, pointing out that public SEC documents filed between 1999 and 2002 identified Romney as Bain’s “sole stockholder, chairman of the board and president.”
Then came the “You didn’t build that” canard. During a July 13 campaign speech in Virginia, President Obama said this: “Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” The “that”—grammatically, logically and obviously—referred to “roads and bridges.” Obama went on to say, “The point is, that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”
Four days later, the Romney campaign had pretzeled this vanilla, self-evident point into “the idea that Steve Jobs didn’t build Apple, that Henry Ford didn’t build Ford Motors,” as Romney told a crowd in Irwin, Penn. Ads went up featuring incensed small business owners (many themselves recipients of government loans or contracts) insisting that they sure had built their businesses. Politifact rated Romney’s attacks “false.” The Washington Post awarded Mitt three ‘Pinocchios’ out of a possible four. Nonetheless, “we built it” was a running theme throughout the Republican convention.
But the Pinocchio count isn’t the point—Mitt’s nose has always been long enough to hang a swing from. “You Didn’t Build That” marked the Romney campaign’s first giant leap into the racial swamp. There’d been jabs questioning Obama’s patriotism before, but nothing quite like what followed.
In his Irwin, Penn., speech, Romney accused Obama of “attacking” and “denigrating” success and wanting to “chang[e] the nature of what Democrats have fought for and Republicans have fought for,” pronouncing the president’s “course” to be “extraordinarily foreign.” So over here you have Democrats and Republicans, i.e., Americans. And over there you have the president. He’s foreign. Oh, and black.
That same day, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, a Romney surrogate, said during a campaign conference call that he wished the president “would learn how to be an American.” Remember, Obama’s father was Kenyan.
On a racially fueled roll in late July, on the eve of Mitt’s disastrous Rainbow Tour of Britain, Israel and Poland, an unnamed Romney advisor told the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he [Romney] feels that the special relationship is special. The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.”
The humor here won’t be lost on Monty Python fans—starting with the advisor’s confirmation that the special relationship is indeed special—proceeding to how this deep appreciator of our shared “Anglo-Saxon heritage” managed to piss off the entire United Kingdom by questioning London’s ability to pull off an Olympics, and ending with Romney, dubbed “Mitt the Twit,” as the laughing stock of the merciless British press.
Romney (and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan) is now lying about Medicare, claiming that Obama “stole” $716 billion to pay for Obamacare, and that Republicans will protect the program. In truth, the Affordable Care Act (i.e., Obamacare) reduced Medicare waste and fraud, thereby strengthening the program without affecting benefits, and the $716 billion is actually in future savings—which Ryan includes in his budget plan as well. Romney proposes turning Medicare into a coupon system that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says will likely cost seniors up to an additional $6,400 annually.
But welfare, now called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, is the Romney campaign’s loudest racial dog-whistle, actually more of a fog horn. A 1996 law put a work requirement into welfare. Last July 12, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it would consider requests from states for waivers of certain of the welfare law’s requirements to provide flexibility, but would only permit “changes intended to lead to more effective means of meeting the work goals” of the law.
Within a couple of weeks, the Romney campaign was running ads claiming Obama had “ended work requirements for welfare” altogether. One ad features a young white man working at a machine, looking tired, wiping sweat from his brow. “Under Obama’s plan,” the narrator intones, “you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check.”
These are lies. Politifact rated Romney’s claim “pants on fire” false. The Washington Post gave it four ‘Pinocchios.’ Factcheck.org agreed. A Republican involved in drafting the 1996 law, Ron Haskins, told NPR, “There’s no plausible scenario under which it really constitutes a serious attack on welfare reform.”
But the Romney campaign ignored the fact-checkers and had former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum trumpet the lie at the Republican convention. Indeed, Romney himself had theorized that the fictitious elimination of the work requirement was an attempt by Obama to satisfy his “base”—the old racial appeal to white voters that the president, himself African-American, is making life even more cushy for all those black “welfare queens.”
Why is Romney persisting in this lie? Arithmetic. Romney is faring miserably with non-white voters. Among Latinos, Obama leads 67 percent to 23 percent according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll. Romney has zero support among African-American voters to Obama’s 94 percent, per an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.
That leaves whites an ever-shrinking electoral demographic. In 1980, 89 percent of voters were non-Latino whites, according to David Paul Kuhn in a June 22 piece posted at Real Clear Politics. They were 85 percent in 1988, and only 74 percent in 2008. Kuhn calculates that given Romney’s dismal position with non-whites, he must win at least 61 percent of whites to prevail—and he ain’t there yet. Obama is the choice of 48 percent of college-educated whites, roughly the same as in 2008, but he polls at only 34 percent of whites without college degrees, six points below 2008, according to the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.
Sensing weakness in the president’s standing with less educated whites, the Romney campaign has pretty plainly decided on a strategy designed to inflame racial resentment.
Will it work? No doubt some low-information voters will be duped, and others who think they’re being robbed by “them” will fall into line. But given the relatively strong pushback this particular Romney lie has received in the mainstream media, it seems equally likely that both the fact of the lie and its rationale will percolate through to other fence-sitting voters, who might be disgusted and vote for Obama—or simply stay home.
Also well-publicized is Romney’s constant, obvious pandering to Republican extremists and the flip-flopping this requires. All politicians bob and weave, but Romney is a species of one. During the primary, GOP presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman famously called Romney a “perfectly lubricated weathervane”—and the Obama campaign has a full catalog of Romney’s whiplash-inducing 180s, including his reversals on abortion and gay rights.
How malleable is Romney? It appears as if his pick of Ayn Rand aficionado Paul Ryan as vice president resulted at least in part from weeks of pressure from the Fox News set.
None of this is the leadership voters seek. While many voters might not be thrilled with Barack Obama and might be willing to fire him, do they really want a race-baiting prevaricator like Romney? And which Romney would America get—the Bain Capital ‘fixer,’ the Romney who’s willing to tap dance to someone else’s tune or the dog-whistling Mitt who seems to care little about actual dogs?
This is a tipping-point election. Let’s hope facts matter.