Campaign 2012: The End of Political Truth?
The most significant public statement from a presidential campaign this year did not pass through the lips of a candidate. It came during the Republican convention in Tampa when Mitt Romney’s pollster, Neil Newhouse, declared at a breakfast panel organized by ABC News, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” With these words, Romney’s chief numbers guy was issuing a manifesto: This campaign is about saying whatever needs to be said to win, reality and facts be damned. It was an appropriate slogan, for the 2012 campaign has been profoundly shaped by Romney’s willingness to obfuscate and dissemble far beyond the admittedly low norm of modern American politics. This election was not only about a clash of political civilizations; it was about the end of political truth.
All politicians shade the truth—or lie. Various fact-checking outfits have rapped President Barack Obama for making false statements. But Romney pushed the envelope this election cycle. He didn’t merely shift shapes and flip-flop excessively—or, flip-flop-flip, considering his last-minute, dare-devilish swerve toward the middle on abortion, gay rights, and immigration. He didn’t only hype his past history and qualifications (I created 100,000 jobs at Bain!) and issue grand and hollow promises about his proposed policies (my economic plan will lead to 12 million jobs). He didn’t just mislead through the selective use of facts (the Benghazi raid was proof of Obama’s foreign policy fecklessness). Romney engaged in foundational lying.