Thursday, August 30, 2012

On Fire (UPDATE)

There always comes the point beyond which lying becomes counterproductive. This point is reached when the audience to which the lies are addressed is forced to disregard altogether the distinguishing line between truth and falsehood in order to be able to survive. Truth or falsehood - it does not matter which any more, if your life depend on your acting as though you trusted; truth that can be relied on disappears entirely from public life, and with it the chief stabilizing factor in the ever-changing affairs of men.
Hannah Arendt, "Lying in Politics"
Even as the Republican Party prepares to nominate Mitt Romney as its candidate for President, the Romney/Ryan campaign has publicly dedicated itself to presenting the people of the United States a series of blatant falsehoods as the basis for their campaign.  For some odd reason - perhaps the clarity with which the campaign has made clear they do not care about matters of truth and falsehood - the press has begun to call out at least one of these lies even as commentators have made clear that, for all its a good start, it may not be enough to counter the sheer volume of deception the Romney/Ryan campaign is preparing to foist upon the American people.

The chorus expressing their stunned awe at the Romney/Ryan campaign's belief that lying is OK because it works (the argument given by campaign officials in the linked Buzzfeed piece) includes Greg Sargent (already linked), James Bennett at The Atlantic, James Fallows also at The Atlantic, Mark Kleiman at, David Weigel at Slate, Thomas Edsall at The New York Times, among many others.  Even CNN, hardly an exemplar of journalistic courage when it comes to matters such as this, noted that Paul Ryan's acceptance speech, given last evening, contained (in the words of Wolf Blitzer) "at least seven or eight points I’m sure the fact checkers will have some opportunities to dispute . . .".

If it seems I have paid an inordinate amount of attention to the many failures and faults of the Republican Party and their nominees for President and Vice-President, the reason is simple enough.  In order for our republican government to function, we need, at the very least, some rootedness in reality.  As I have made clear ad nauseum,  there are good, substantive criticisms to be made against the Obama Presidency; there are good, substantive reasons not to support his re-election.  That the opposition to Obama has deliberately and publicly decided not to campaign upon these substantive matters but instead to lie their way to November cannot be made clear enough.  Like Romney's "birther joke" from last Friday at a campaign stop in Michigan, the decision to set truth to one side, to declare fact-checking irrelevant in the face of the success of appeals to class and racial resentment, while hardly as unprecedented as some like E. J. Dionne, writing in 2004, would have us believe.  I'm not sure what's different about this campaign except, perhaps, what Mark Kleiman calls "the sheer cynicism of the Romney campaign".

Most folks have seen the meme's floating around Facebook that say, "Wouldn't it be funny if liar's pants really did catch on fire?"  If that were, indeed, true, the building housing the Republican National Convention would have burned to the ground long ago.  The fact is - and from this entire post it seems clear that there are people who just don't care about pesky facts - Romney/Ryan, from beginning to end, is rooted in falsehoods; the RNC theme is false; the ad about Obama "gutting" welfare reform is false; even as they give their speeches, the candidates cannot help but lie.  This bodes ill both for the campaign season ahead and for the country as a whole.  That there are enough people who are willing to allow themselves to be lied to by people seeking public office is not just disappointing (there have always been those willing to suspend disbelief when it comes to politics), but a very real threat to our form of government.  There is, quite literally, now way to know how a Romney/Ryan Administration would govern (unless we look at the records of the men in question, of course, yet another irrelevant exercise in truth-telling this season of lies) given the campaign's dedication to mendacity.

We may deserve better.  But, these are the choices: A middling President who, while certainly concerned, seems unable or unwilling to do what is necessary to right the ship of our national economy; or a Republican ticket who just don't care about things like facts and reality, seeking only to win an election by any means necessary.  The only virtue Romney/Ryan seem to have is their honesty about the practice of dishonesty.

UPDATE: Steve Benen is a smart, funny, engaging writer online for Washington Monthly.  Since January, he has featured Mitt Romney's deliberate falsehoods.  As of his thirtieth installment on Friday, August 17, according to Slacktivist at Patheos, the total reached 533.  It's the hip-wader election, friends and neighbors.

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