In the course of any political convention, the truth can get bruised in a stampede of partisan speakers. But at their national convention in Tampa this week, Republicans showed that there may be one thing they hold in more disdain than President Obama – fact-checkers.
From fibs to distortions to flat-out falsehoods, it was a parade of prevarication that, unfortunately, was indistinguishable from much of what voters are seeing this election year. A shoot-first, shoot-later culture is what passes in both parties for political discussion these days, with campaigns boldly engaging in the kind of mistruths that used to be left to political action committees.
In Tampa, some of the fibs were small, such as Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee claiming Obama had no experience in business, instead of accurately saying he had comparatively little to their candidate, Mitt Romney. Then there were the bigger distortions, such as the convention favorite that Obama is “gutting welfare” and waiving the work requirement of a landmark 1996 welfare law.
Those charges stem from an administration memo in July that gives states flexibility in implementing welfare-to-work policies. We’ve expressed some concerns about the president unnecessarily tinkering with a successful program – but gutting? Not true.
Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan joined the fun midweek with a few more whoppers. He strongly suggested that Obama could have prevented the closing of a Wisconsin auto plant, when in reality the impending shutdown was announced and more than 1,000 workers laid off before Obama took office. Ryan also criticized Obama for ignoring the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson debt reduction commission, but he forgot to mention that he, too, was a member of that commission and voted against the plan.
Finally, Romney closed the convention by repeating the debunked claim that as president, Obama had gone on an “apology tour” for America. And, our favorite: Romney said that Republicans rallied behind Obama when he was elected in 2008. They must have been drowned out by the drumbeat of other Republicans who publicly adopted a strategy of obstructing the president so that he wouldn’t get a second term.
Certainly, Republicans have company in sometimes treating “fact” as the wrong kind of four-letter word. Obama has run a misleading ad about Romney’s position on exceptions for abortion restrictions, and the president declined recently to denounce a super PAC ad that suggested Romney shared some blame for a woman’s cancer death.
It’s a risky strategy for either candidate. Take away each party’s base, which will believe or defend whatever their guy says, and you’re left with independents who largely are skeptical of both. For Romney, who is fighting a reputation of being less-than-forthcoming, Thursday night’s misstatements may have diluted an otherwise effective plea to independents disappointed with their 2008 vote for Obama.
Clearly, both parties have thus far calculated that false claims, even when they’re disproven, have a good chance of resonating with voters. We hope Democrats in Charlotte at least show a greater appreciation for the truth next week, but we fear we’re headed for another convention in which fact-checkers, more than independents, will benefit.