The G.O.P. Fact Vacuum
By CHARLES M. BLOW. Tampa, Fla.
Honesty is a lost art. Facts are for losers. The truth is dead.
Whatever the term of art, they all signal a dark turn, and, this week, the Republican Party took that turn with reckless abandon.
Lying is certainly nothing new in politics. One could even argue that it’s fundamental to politics. Saying incredible things in a credible way is the art; using math of vapors to sell dreams of smoke is the craft.
But Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech on Wednesday took things up a notch.
Sally Kohn, a contributor to Fox News, said:
“Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech. On this measure, while it was Romney who ran the Olympics, Ryan earned the gold.”
Business Insider called it “factually shaky.” A Washington Post blog called it a “breathtakingly dishonest speech.” Salon’s Joan Walsh said the speech was “stunning for its dishonesty” and contained “brazen lies.” Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic used the headline: “The Most Dishonest Convention Speech ... Ever?” You get the picture.
So much was written about this and other Republican attempts to distort and deny the truth this week. But I’m beginning to worry that many Americans are growing weary of isolating the lies, coming as they did in torrents.
The Romney campaign seems to be banking on this fatigue and counting on The Fourth Estate being reduced to little more than a fifth wheel in the political zeitgeist. One of its pollsters said this week that the campaign would not be dictated by fact-checkers.
Romney’s speech at the convention on Thursday avoided the flat-out falseness of Ryan’s, containing what FactCheck.org called only a “few bits of exaggeration and puffery.” The greatest transgression Thursday night was the bizarre scene of Uncle Clint babbling back and forth with an empty chair that contained an invisible Obama.
But Romney’s restraint does not erase the damage already done.
Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher looked at the fact-checking site PolitiFact’s tallies on Aug. 10 and found that:
“Mitt Romney’s statements have been judged Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire 46 percent of the time, versus only 29 percent for President Obama. In the Pants on Fire category alone, Romney is more than four times as likely to suffer trouser immolation than the president. Nearly 1 in 10 statements by Romney earned flaming slacks, versus 1 out of every 50 for Obama.”
On Friday, PolitiFact still had Romney’s statements as Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire 42 percent of the time, compared with 27 percent of the time for Obama.
Propaganda is one thing; prevarication is another.
There is some degree of mythmaking and truth-stretching in every campaign, but the extent to which Republicans have embraced ignobility in this campaign is astounding. They have used their convention podium to unleash a whole lot of half-truths, so many that fact-checkers have been working overtime. But trying to chase down every lie is like trying to catch every bug in a log. It’s almost impossible.
If the news media has to pour so much energy into fact-checking, which is noble and necessary, I worry that the big picture gets short shrift. The convention itself was shockingly low on vision and high on venom.
Yet the candidates are virtually tied in most polls. What does this portend for the republic? I worry deeply about this, not simply because I work at a newspaper, but because I am an American.
If we allow our leaders to completely abandon any semblance of honesty, what do we have left? When rancid disinformation stands in the space where actual information should be, what will grow?
And how can a party that incessantly repeats the mantra that our rights were granted by God repeatedly violate a basic tenet of almost every religion: truth-telling? What does it mean when a party that trafficks in American greatness trades in human horridness?
Romney long ago demonstrated that he was willing to do anything and take any position — even if they contradicted previous ones — to make it to the White House. And while that may be fine for him, it shouldn’t be fine with us.
We deserve better and should demand better. We deserve better than a weather-vane candidacy that doesn’t care whether it’s being candid. We deserve better than a party and a presidential aspirant so wanton that they refuse to let facts get in the way of a fairy tale.