Monday, October 29, 2012

Romney Rules special edition: the meta-ethics of the post-truth campaign

Paul Krugman dubbed Mitt Romney's drive for the presidency the post-truth campaign. Steven Benen chronicles 20-50 verifiable instances of Mitt's mendacity every week (a record future generations will marvel at). I like to focus on the campaign's meta-ethics -- its explicit justifications for willfully misleading the public.  

That has happened on at least four occasions. Here they are*, in reverse chronological order:  

1) The most recent is the most egregious: the campaign is defending an ad, now running in Ohio, that gives the clear false impression that Chrysler is going to move its U.S.-based Jeep production to China, whereas the company has merely stated an intention to build Jeeps in China for the Chinese market. The ad follows on the heels of a false statement by Romney last week that Chrysler was moving U.S. Jeep manufactures to China.  Asked by Buzzfeed, to explain the ad, an unnamed Romney aide responded, ""What's in there that's false? Are they building Jeeps in China or not?" Context doesn't matter; artful omissions are okay; deliberately creating a false impression is okay.

2) Back in August, the Romney campaign refused to pull a racially charged ad falsely claiming that the Obama administration was gutting the work requirement in welfare reform. Every fact-checker in the business declared the ad egregiously false. The campaign response then too was recorded by Buzzfeed:
The Washington Post's "Fact Checker" awarded Romney's ad "four Pinocchios," a measure Romney pollster Neil Newhouse dismissed.

"Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs, and we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers," he said. The fact-checkers — whose institutional rise has been a feature of the cycle — have "jumped the shark," he added after the panel.
Fact-checkers have indeed made questionable calls in this election, and both campaigns have pushed back.  The condemnation of this ad stood out for its unanimity, however -- and the campaign offered no substantive rebuttal.

3)  In debate on January 26 of this year, Gingrich complained about a Romney ad he dubbed misleading in its claim that Gingrich had called Spanish 'the language of the ghetto."  Romney first claimed not to have seen the ad (notwithstanding that it had his imprimatur), and then, confronted with its existence, made this claim for its legitimacy:

We did double-check, just now, Governor, that ad that we talked about, where I quoted you as saying that Speaker Gingrich called Spanish “the language of the ghetto” — we just double-checked. It was one of your ads. It’s running here in Florida in — on the radio. And at the end you say, “I’m Mitt Romney and I approved this ad.”
So it is — it is here.
ROMNEY: Let me ask — let me ask a question.
Let me ask the speaker a question. Did you say what the ad says or not? I don’t know.
GINGRICH: It’s taken totally out of context.
ROMNEY: Oh, OK, he said it.
 Romney himself makes it clear in this case: context doesn't matter. Recall, he claimed not even to be aware of what his own ad claimed, or, by implication, what Gingrich had said. The mere that the words were uttered was enough for him.

4) We were warned early, back in the fall of 2011, that the Romney camp considered any and all contextual distortion fair game, up to and including complete reversal of the speaker's original meaning. The ur-example was the campaign's deployment last November of a clip showing Obama saying, "if we talk about the economy, we're going to lose," omitting the fact that Obama was attributing those words to the McCain campaign (full quote: "Senator McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, 'If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose’”).  Asked about the deception, a "top Romney operative" said this to the Times' Tom Edsall:

“First of all, ads are propaganda by definition. We are in the persuasion business, the propaganda business…. Ads are agitprop…. Ads are about hyperbole, they are about editing. It’s ludicrous for them to say that an ad is taking something out of context…. All ads do that. They are manipulative pieces of persuasive art.”
In other words, since ads are prone to deception, no level of deception is unacceptable.

Romney Rule #1 -- context doesn't matter -- is a subset of a broader principle that you might call the credo of the post-truth campaign: it's acceptable to use an isolated fact or spoken phrase to create a deliberate false impression.

* Nos 3 and 4 are adapted from a prior post, Proud owners of the post-truth campaign.

Related: Romney Rules


  1. "Steve Benen chronicles 20-50 verifiable instances of Mitt's mendacity every week (a record future generations will marvel at)."

    Why? Hasn't Romney got away with his campaign, at least to a 90% degree of "not paying for it"? No casual voter ever sees the Romney spokesperson walk back any of Mitt's lies/flip-flops/ads. Benen and Soledad O'Brien aside, I don't see a concerted effort by the media to hold Romney's feet to the fire. The so-called 'FactCheckers' have turned themselves into a punchline.

    Whether Romney wins or loses, hasn't this shown the Republican party that Orwellian politics are now possible? Which one of them is going to turn down that sort of advantage in 2016?

  2. I have to say I am unbelievably angry about this ad. In my lifetime (and I have been a politically aware person for over 50 yrs) I have never been assaulted with these kinds of lies. How can his campaign do this? Quite honestly, they are a campaign without honor.