Truth-Telling As Fascism

It’s getting a lot of derisive attention today, but let me add my own hilarity to the general reaction to Daniel Henninger’s Wall Street Journal column today suggesting that people in politics should never, ever, call each other “liars.” Here’s the passage being quoted most:

The Obama campaign’s resurrection of “liar” as a political tool is odious because it has such a repellent pedigree. It dates to the sleazy world of fascist and totalitarian propaganda in the 1930s. It was part of the milieu of stooges, show trials and dupes. These were people willing to say anything to defeat their opposition. Denouncing people as liars was at the center of it. The idea was never to elevate political debate but to debauch it.

The purpose of calling someone a liar then was not merely to refute their ideas or arguments. It was to nullify them, to eliminate them from participation in politics.

Um, no. The habit of 1930s totalitarians was to either (a) ignore everything enemies say and simply exclude them because of who they are, or (b) force them to confess their perfidies, the more lurid the better. The only people I know of U.S. politics with those unsavory characteristics are typically Republicans who have been calling their opponents “un-American” for years, and/or suggesting that anyone who doesn’t accept “constitutional conservative” policy prescriptions hates the country and God Almighty. Nobody’s trying to “eliminate” Mitt Romney “from participation in politics.” The people, myself included, who have called him a “liar” have done so because he’s, you know, on a factual basis, “lied.” It’s hard to call the massive ad campaign run by Romney accusing the Obama administration of abolishing work requirements for welfare anything other than a “lie.” Since it’s not very likely that Mitt Romney fails to grasp elementary arithmetic, his repeated assertions that there are no contradictions built into his tax proposals have risen to the level of a “lie,” as well. And as readers of Brother Steve Benen know, you can go on and on and on and on.

Sometimes people on the left accuse Romney of lying when it would be possible to accuse him of “misrepresentations” or “fudging the truth” or “serial exaggeration” and so forth. But you know what? Romney’s habit of using lies to reinforce even bigger lies (e.g., his preposterous claim that his “health care plan” would take care of the uninsured just as much as Obamacare would, or his alleged interest in governing in a bipartisan manner, or his supposed independence from the Cultural Right) kind of makes me lose interest in cutting the guy any slack in theoretically close cases. And in complaining (as his running mate did earlier this week) about Democratic attacks on his integrity, Romney hardly comes into the political court of equity with clean hands, having run hatefully negative ads on both his primary and general election opponents whenever it seemed helpful to his candidacy.

But the clincher to me is that it’s not just “liberals” who think there’s something specially mendacious about Romney’s campaign: it’s what conservatives said for months when they were searching high and low for any plausible alternative to the man, and then what they said about his general-election campaign until very, very recently. Why can’t Mitt be loud and proud about his conservative agenda? they asked over and over about the policy positions he continues to hide and distort with every breath.

If Henninger or anyone else can come up with a better way of describing what Romney’s been doing in this election cycle again and again, I’m all ears. For a while I thought about calling him “Nixonian” in his byzantine twists and turns. But after a while, this became an insult to the memory of the Tricky One. In any event, don’t call those of us who have the responsibility of truth-telling about Romney and his vast, dishonest Potemkin Village of a campaign “fascist.” Nobody’s trying to silence Mitt Romney; we’d just prefer he’d unfork his tongue a lot more often. It’s exhausting just keeping up with the man’s mendacity, or whatever you choose to call his aversion to anything like straight talk.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.