Thursday, July 26, 2012

A little distance on the post-truth campaign

I've been on vacation with my wife in the Finger Lakes and fell off the grid for reasons I won't bore you with -- off completely for one day, near-completely for three. When we get away, usually, I'm eager to dive back into the political/policy news when I can, but this time, my brief forays have felt like dropping into a coal mine.  A bit of distance defamiliarizes our degraded politics and brings home what a high-stakes, dangerous and disgusting contest it is.

Reconnecting for a bit last night, I caught up with this elevated argument from the Romney campaign:
[Romney] advisers told The Daily Telegraph that he would abandon Mr Obama’s “Left-wing” coolness towards London.
In remarks that may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity, one suggested that Mr Romney was better placed to understand the depth of ties between the two countries than Mr Obama, whose father was from Africa.
"We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the adviser said of Mr Romney, adding: “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.”
Leaving aside the transparent messaging template behind comments like this -- that Obama is un-American, anti-American, inherently alien, an agent to end America -- this bilge also sets new standards for pandering, as Romney has long since set new standards for lying.

Speaking of lying, I also learned that the Romney campaign -- which has openly trumpeted its intention to take opponents' words out of context (and done it repeatedly) -- had doubled down on its transparently misleading mash-up of Obama's "you didn't build that" riff with transparently irrelevant evidence that Obama "meant it" (i.e., "meant" that business owners didn't build their businesses, rather than that they didn't build supporting infrastructure from which they benefited). The "evidence": anodyne Obama statements to the effect that "the market couldn't solve all our problems on its own" and that "only government" can effectively intervene to boost spending in a severe recession. Neither suggest anything remotely like a belief that business owners didn't build their businesses.  To adapt a Krugman analogy, it's as if Obama took a Romney statement to the effect that excessive regulation was inhibiting business activity to mean that all regulation of any industry was counterproductive.

With a bit of distance, the post-truth campaign looks like democracy in its decadence.  Romney is apparently an able man, apparently a genuinely devout Mormon, apparently strictly ethical by his own lights. At the same time, to win the Republican nomination, his only path to the presidency, he has transformed himself into a pander and a demagogue: committed himself to core policies he knows are destructive, to a demonization of the national version of his signature political accomplishment, and to a case against his opponent built almost entirely on lies.  He has Palinized himself. And he could very well become president on those terms.

I tell myself to beware of confirmation bias, remind myself that my beliefs about Romney and the GOP are mirror images of Tea Party views of Obama and the Democrats.  But this attempt at fairness, as Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann have amassed overwhelming evidence to show, is a kind of Gaslight exercise that today's GOP has inflicted on the country, constructing an alternate reality in which previous consensus policies and goals -- increased government spending in recessions, blended tax hikes and spending cuts for deficit reduction, Fed action to reduce unemployment -- are demonized as socialist plots and boondoggles.

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