Mitt Romney appeared on Fox News last night and boasted, “Our campaign hasn’t put up negative ads at this stage.” I know that’s not true. I’ve seen the ads.
Likewise, Romney said on Thursday night, “This is a president who fundamentally believes that the next century is the post-American century. Perhaps it will be the Chinese century. He is wrong.” I know that’s not true, either. Kevin Drum noted in response, “Seriously, where does he get this stuff? It’s just made up out of thin air. Obama’s never said this or anything even close to it.”
With these routine falsehoods in mind, I noticed Daniel Larison had a piece the other day with a headline that read, “Why Does Romney Lie?” The amusing thing about this, at least in a sardonic sort of way, is that I wondered to myself what prompted the headline and about a half-dozen examples from the last week or so quickly came to mind. (In this instance, it was an Andrew Sullivan item about Romney telling easily-disproven claims about his years in France as a Mormon missionary.)
Regardless, Larison posits a theory.
Why does Romney ever tell bald-faced lies? After all, this is a man who has made the “non-existent tour” the rhetorical centerpiece of his presidential campaign. For some reason, he even managed to say something untrue about his real first name during the national security debate last month.
It’s tempting to say that he has reinvented himself so thoroughly that he can no longer remember what is true and what isn’t, and he has absorbed and appropriated so many new positions over the years that it all gets jumbled together and re-mixed according to whatever the political need of the moment happens to be. It’s easy to lose track after the fourth or fifth incarnation. More likely, he is so contemptuous of the people he tells these lies to that he never thinks he will be found out.
I suspect Larison and I agree on almost nothing when it comes to public policy or visions of government, but on the issue of Romney’s discomforting hostility for the truth, we’re on the same page. I’ve found myself repeatedly wondering in recent months why Romney lies as often, and as carelessly, as he does, without the slightest regard for how easy it is to prove which of his claims aren’t true.
Indeed, as we talked about the other day, Romney and his team have demonstrated a willingness to lie — blatantly and shamelessly — with discomforting ease. We’ve seen this in offensive campaign ads, routine talking points, policy arguments, and even personal anecdotes and characteristics.
And when pressed, Romney and his aides have freely admitted, more than once, that niceties such as facts, evidence, and reason just aren’t that important to them. Dishonest “propaganda” should simply be expected and accepted, they’ve said.
I’ve been watching national campaigns for quite a while, and I can’t think of any comparable major-party campaigns acting this way, especially this far from the election.
Given all of this, I thought I’d offer Larison’s question as a discussion topic: Why does Romney tell “bald-faced lies”?
Update: Paul Krugman added that Romney “has surely already established some kind of new record: with all the bad things that have happened in American politics over the centuries, I can’t think of any candidate who has lied so freely, with so little compunction.”