I watched the presidential debate last night and I must admit that I went to sleep (and woke up) feeling depressed. I was (and I guess I still am) depressed for two reasons, but they may not be exactly the reasons that you might guess. And no, one of those reasons is not that I think that Mitt Romney is going to win on November 6th. I still think that President Obama will most likely be re-elected to a second term.
So why am I depressed?
Well, first, I’m depressed about President Obama’s performance. I’m not particularly upset with anything that he said; rather, I’m upset with how he said things and about the things he didn’t say. One of my biggest disappointments with President Obama’s presidency has been his tendency to try so hard to be the calm, dispassionate, adult in the room rather than taking an occasionally-needed much harder and aggressive tone. Getting along, being dispassionate, even being reasonable, are terrific traits. Usually. But sometimes I wish that President Obama would look Republicans in the eye and say, “Bullshit” or “That’s a lie” (well, maybe in a slightly more politic tone…).
And yes, I do understand that a more combative tone might have hurt his personal favorability numbers. Maybe. I guess I just wish that he’d played a bit more offense and a bit less defense. I wanted to hear him talk about Romney’s 47% comment, I wanted to hear about vulture capitalism and job destruction. I wanted him to ask Romney how many jobs those offshore bank accounts have created. I wanted him to ask Romney what his effective tax rate would have been in 2010 under the Ryan tax plan (0.82%). I wanted him to hit Romney on his flips and flops and backward somersaults. I wanted him to say, “Gee, Mitt, I know that Paul Ryan says the math is complicated, but give me just 5 tax loopholes that you intend to close. Just 5. I dare you. Oh, and tell us how much revenue that will generate. Come on. Go ahead. I’ll even cede you some of my time.” And I wanted to hear President Obama offer very forceful responses to Romney’s lies. Certainly there were enough opportunities.
Which brings me to the second reason that I’m depressed. As anyone who has read other posts on this blog knows, one thing that really concerns me is the political lie. And I’ve tried to highlight over recent months (and years, I suppose) that many Republican candidates (and pundits and so forth) have become completely disassociated from truth, facts, reality, evidence, and science. When Paul Ryan gave his acceptance speech at the Republican convention, a speech that was light on truth but very, very long on lies and obfuscation, it became apparent that the Romney campaign’s principal strategy wasn’t to have a real or honest debate and discussion of the issues; rather, the strategy was simply to lie their way to the White House.
And last night, Mitt Romney demonstrated that there has been no deviation to that strategy.
He lied with impunity. He made shit up. He used what one commentator referred to as the “Monty Python strategy” (just saying “no it doesn’t” to any claim made about a Romney policy). Any “good” policy that President Obama favors, Romney suddenly favored too, even if for the last 7 years of running for office he’s opposed that same policy. (After the debate, his campaign even acknowledged that Romney wasn’t accurate on his claim that his healthcare policy would protect people with pre-existing conditions.)
For some reason that I can’t fathom, President Obama simply wouldn’t or couldn’t directly challenge Romney’s lies. Of course, I doubt that in preparing a debate strategy, President Obama and his advisors even contemplated that Romney’s strategy would be to lie about every policy proposal he had. I guess I might be a bit flummoxed by that too. Though, I guess I do fault the moderator for not saying, “Gee, Gov. Romney, that’s not what you said the other day” or “You know, Gov. Romney, that statement isn’t true” or maybe even asking Romney to explain the difference between what he said on stage and what he’s said previously. But apparently in the interests of being “neutral” journalists no longer make an effort to help the public understand the issues or sort fact from fiction.
What most upsets me about this, though, is that the Romney campaign apparently thinks so highly of the lie as political strategy (and, correspondingly, so little of the ability of the electorate to recognize the lies) that they are willing to use that strategy. What will it say about our country if our next President is elected, not on the basis of detailed discussion of policies and ideas, but on the basis of lies used to cover up a complete dearth or real and workable ideas?
If people prefer Romney’s policies, that’s fine (well, not really, but you know what I mean). But they have to know what his policies really are. For that matter, I guess Romney needs to know what his own policies really are, too, and I’m not sure that he does. A policy of simply “I’ll say I’ll do whatever I think is most politically expedient to getting votes” isn’t really a policy, let alone of formula for good governance. But Romney is apparently trusting that the undecided portion of the electorate either doesn’t care about truth or facts or simply has no way of recognizing the lies and separating reality from total fiction and fabrication. Or maybe he’s just hoping that those who don’t like President Obama, for whatever reason, are just looking for any reason to support Romney, even if that reason is total bullshit.
And so I’m really, really depressed at the notion that the campaign of one of the major parties has elected to elevate lies to a preeminent position in electoral discourse and strategy. A campaign or electoral victory built on lies is just another step in a very, very wrong direction. We need to hold Romney accountable for the lies he tells. We need to demand that he tell the truth. We need to push journalists to call out lies and to stop playing the game of false equivalence.
Most importantly, though, is that we must educate our friends and neighbors. We must be sure that Romney’s lies don’t become “true” to those who don’t follow politics and the news so closely. We must be sure that whoever we elect, we do so on the basis of a sound understanding of actual policy proposals and not on the basis of sound bites and lies.
Those responsibilities are incumbent upon each of us if we care about the direction of our country or about the core of our political system.
Update (October 4, 2012): A little while after publishing this, I remembered one other point that I wanted to make. Don’t worry. I’ll be brief. I just wanted to note that I thought the absolute lowest moment of the debate was when Romney told President Obama that he was entitled “as the president to your own airplane and your own house, but not to your own facts.” This statement is the height of hypocrisy, coming from a man with several houses (including one with a car elevator), who claims a business deduction for a dancing horse, who supports tax deductions for private airplanes, who lies repeatedly, even after being called out for it, and whose campaign has actually said “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers”. Apparently, in Romney-world, what he says is true, no matter the actual, you know, reality. And woe unto anyone who contradicts Romney, even if the contradiction is based on stupid shit like evidence, for that contradiction is, apparently, automatically a lie. Talk about the world turning upside down. Trying to imagine a Romney presidency is fear-inducing.
Update 2 (October 5, 2012): This post was quoted in today’s edition of The Indianapolis Star in the article “In presidential debate aftermath, an unlikely benefit for U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly” by Mary Beth Schneider. The article appeared on the front page of the print edition (though mention of this blog doesn’t come until late in the article on page A4 or page 3-4 of the online version). And oddly enough, the online comments to the article aren’t dripping with hate toward me (just a few run-of-the-mill “liberal media bias” comments directed at the author). There is a typo in the article, however. The article says “But that, he said, was the biggest reason for his blues.” I believe that the word “was” should have been “wasn’t”.