Saturday, 3 November 2012

Snake oil merchants and American conservatism

Watching the US election campaign I have been struck by the sheer, blatant, transparent dishonesty of the Republican campaign. The Obama campaign has seemed to be your usual level of political dishonesty, but the Romney campaign has sunk to new depths, and when confronted on their dishonesty they have just doubled down rather than walking back.

The campaign's ethic is best captured by two quotes. The first was from Eric Fehrstrom, commenting about Romney's rightward rush in the primaries, when he said “Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all of over again”. The other was by Romney pollster Neil Newhouse - "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers".

Rick Perlstein, writing at the Baffler, looks at the rampant dishonesty of the Romney presidential campaign in the context of a long history of dishonest spruiking of conservative mythology. It's a long but fascinating read. Here are the first few paragraphs, covering the dishonesty of the campaign, but it's the discussion of conservative fundraising, snake oil merchants and multilevel marketing where it gets really interesting.
Mitt Romney is a liar. Of course, in some sense, all politicians, even all human beings, are liars. Romney’s lying went so over-the-top extravagant by this summer, though, that the New York Times editorial board did something probably unprecedented in their polite gray precincts: they used the L-word itself. “Mr. Romney’s entire campaign rests on a foundation of short, utterly false sound bites,” they editorialized. He repeats them “so often that millions of Americans believe them to be the truth.” “It is hard to challenge these lies with a well-reasoned-but- overlong speech,” they concluded; and how. Romney’s lying, in fact, was so richly variegated that it can serve as a sort of grammar of mendacity.

Some Romney lies posit absences where there are obviously presences: his claim, for instance, that “President Obama doesn’t have a plan” to create jobs. Other Romney fabrications assert presences where there are absences. A clever bit of video editing can make it seem like Romney was enthusiastically received before the NAACP, when, in fact, he had been booed. There are lies, damned lies, statistics—like his assertion that his tax cut proposal won’t have any effect on the federal budget, which the Tax Policy Center called “not mathematically possible.” That frank dismissal vaulted the candidate into another category of lie, an attempt to bend time itself: Romney responded by calling that group “biased”; last year, he called them “objective.”

There are outsourced lies, like this one from deep in my files: in 2007, Ann Romney told the right-wing site Newsmax.com that her husband had “always personally been prolife,” though Mitt had said in his 1994 Senate race, “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country.” And then Ann admitted a few sentence later, “They say he flip-flopped on abortion. Well, you know what? He did change his mind.”

And then there’s the most delicious kind of lie of them all, the kind that hoists the teller on his own petard as soon as a faintly curious auditor consults the record for occasions on which he’s said the opposite. Here the dossier of Mittdacity overfloweth. In 2012, for example, he said he took no more federal money for the Salt Lake City Olympic Games than previous games had taken; a decade earlier, however, he called the $410 million in federal money he bagged “a huge increase over anything ever done before.”

There are more examples, so many more, but as I started to log and taxonomize them, their sheer volume threatened to crash my computer. (OK, I’m lying; I just stopped cataloging them, out of sheer fatigue.) You can check in at MSNBC’s Maddowblog for Steve Benen’s series “Chronicling Mitt’s Mendacity” for the current tally. He was at Volume XXXIX as of this writing, though I’m confident several more arrived while this magazine was at the printers. Volume XXVIII, posted early in August, listed twenty-eight separate lies. Then came the Republican convention, when his designated fibbing-mate Paul Ryan packed so many lies into his charismatic introduction to the nation that a Washington Post blogger assigned by his editor to write a piece on “the true, the false, and the misleading in Ryan’s speech” could find only one entrant for the “true” section; and his editor then had to concede that “even the definition of ‘true’ that we’re using is loose.”
Read on at the Baffler.

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