Political Animal


August 30, 2012 12:53 PM Blazing New Trails

By Ed Kilgore

This morning, after publishing a “fact-checking” piece on Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech, WaPo’s earnest wonk Ezra Klein felt compelled to pen a subsequent column noting that something really new is going on with the Romney/Ryan campaign:

The Republican ticket, when it comes to talking about matters of policy and substance, has some real problems - problems that have nothing to do with whether you like their ideas. Romney admits that his tax plan “can’t be scored” and then he rejects independent analyses showing that his numbers don’t add up. He says — and Ryan echoes — that he’ll bring federal spending down to 20 percent of GDP but refuses to outline a path for how well get there. He mounts a massive ad assault based on a completely discredited lie about the Obama administration’s welfare policy. He releases white papers quoting economists who don’t agree with the Romney campaign’s interpretations of their research.
All this is true irrespective of your beliefs as to what is good and bad policy, or which ticket you prefer. Quite simply, the Romney campaign isn’t adhering to the minimum standards required for a real policy conversation. Even if you bend over backward to be generous to them — as the Tax Policy Center did when they granted the Romney campaign a slew of essentially impossible premises in order to evaluate their tax plan — you often find yourself forced into the same conclusion: This doesn’t add up, this doesn’t have enough details to be evaluated, or this isn’t true.
I don’t like that conclusion. It doesn’t look “fair” when you say that. We’ve been conditioned to want to give both sides relatively equal praise and blame, and the fact of the matter is, I would like to give both sides relatively equal praise and blame. I’d personally feel better if our coverage didn’t look so lopsided. But first the campaigns have to be relatively equal. So far in this campaign, you can look fair, or you can be fair, but you can’t be both.

I’ve probably recalled the anecdote before about the time some friends of mine were working for a state agency that ran a competitive grant program which was scrupulously meritocratic and quantitative. On one occasion, they just knew there was an application near and dear to the hearts of our ultimate boss, the governor. Very late one night, they were all staring at a huge spreadsheet on somebody’s office floor, crunching numbers and recalculating rounding adjustments and generally trying very hard to get the governor’s project just over the finish line. Suddenly one of them shouted: “I’ve got it!” They all stopped and waited for the Big Reveal. “We can just lie!”

She was joking, but the story illustrates the line the Romney/Ryan campaign has so clearly and definitively crossed. Sure, all campaigns stretch the facts and look at them sideways and place their values and policies in the best possible light and their opponents’ in the worst. But blatant, systematic lying—on small matters like budget assumptions and plant closing dates, and on big matters like your basic attitude towards large, popular federal programs—really does change the game and makes it a lot easier for everyone other than the frustrated “neutral” observers who know what you’re up to but struggle to find words to describe it without appearing “partisan.”

Why is this happening? My theory is simple: Paul Ryan is a truly radical ideologue who is used to disguising his radicalism; that’s how someone who still seems to leaf through a dogeared copy of Atlas Shrugged for inspiration has survived so long. And Mitt Romney is, even according to his friends and admirers, a chameleon who has constantly changed his policies and rhetoric to reflect the changing contexts in which he was trying to “succeed,” his supreme “value.”

When Romney chose Ryan as his running-mate, we all had theories of what this surprising move represented. It didn’t occur to me, anyway, that the real bond between the two men was a practiced affinity for lying about themselves and their opponents without any apparent moral struggle: Romney because he truly does think himself uniquely capable to serve as president (his campaign slogan should probably be Pontius Pilate’s announcement of Christ upon delivering him to “justice:” Ecce Homo!); Ryan because he aims at liberating the American people from the far greater “lies” of collectivism and altruism.

They’re quite the ticket, and they are blazing new trails in brimstone for American politics.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • TCinLA on August 30, 2012 1:08 PM:

    There was one other campaign like this, it was run in a central European country 79 years ago. We all know what happened.

    A friend of mine lived through those "bad years" in that country, and once told me: "The Nazis didn't elect Hitler, the conservatives did because they believed him when he told them he was one of them. They discovered the lie too late."

  • James M on August 30, 2012 1:12 PM:

    The sheer level of dishonesty in the Romney campaign is so high that it is hard to make sense of it. Here are some hypotheses.

    1. BO/The Dems are wimps

    I guess this is the 'bitch slap' theory so loved by Josh Marshall at TPM: just smack the Dems hard and they will back off.

    2. Entitlement

    I read that Ann Romney said that 'Now is our turn'. Maybe Messrs. Romney and Ryan simply believe that it is their right to win, so it doesn't matter if individual statements they make are true or not.

    3. The weak MSM theory

    I think there was a post here a couple of days ago that the Romney campaign may believe it can simply ignore the MSM and still win the election (I would assume by relying on Fox News and right wing leaning talk radio and Internet sites).

    4. The 'We have nothing to lose' theory

    I am beginning to suspect that the Romney campaign's internal polling shows they are facing a potential loss of 2008 proportions. Mr. Romney knows his political career is finished if he loses, so why not go 'all in' with the most incendiary nonsense imaginable. If it works, fine. If if doesn't, he was history in the GOP anyway: the dorky former moderate rich guy that nobody really likes who couldn't win.

  • J--PA. Dem on August 30, 2012 1:12 PM:

    Amazing. Ryan has the nerve to talk about Obama's "government-planned life," when Ryan spent all these years in government, and his family sought and accepted federal contracts!
    He had Social Security as a youth which he used for his college education. He hates that program for the rest of us.
    Most kids today have enormous college loan debt--LOAN DEBT.

    Ryan is as bad as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck Talk Radio. And as Orwellian.

    He was falsely sincere all night and played to the camera like a child.
    He exploited his own mother and grandmother as he lied about his plans for Medicare, and lied about the president's policies.

    His views about womens' reproductive rights are an insult to all women. Forcible rape anyone?

    And Ryan has etch-a-sketched his very own life.

  • R. Porrofatto on August 30, 2012 1:18 PM:

    I think we're seeing the triumph of talk radio/Fox News politics: say anything, repeat it over and over, and your base and enough "independents" will buy it simply because everyone else they know does. I witnessed the Reagan administration do this on a daily basis. They'd hit the front page (or better yet, the evening news) with something absolutely untrue, secure in the knowledge that subsequent analysis and clarification would take place the next day at the earliest and be buried in the paper, and probably wouldn't happen at all on broadcast news.

    Does anyone think that all the attention to Ryan's lies in the newspapers and blogs today will ever reach the vast majority of people who read neither newspapers nor blogs? They'll tune into Rush or Sean or Fox and hear the lies, over and over again. Until Democrats realize that this is hardball propaganda, and take measures to defeat it, they risk being beaten by bullshit every time.

  • Kathryn on August 30, 2012 1:22 PM:

    They have created an alternate universe that nearly one half of our fellow citizens believe. Met one today as I registered voters, all I can say is vote, volunteer, send money, if you can spare it, this is serious you know what.

  • c u n d gulag on August 30, 2012 1:30 PM:

    They are banking on the reticecse of the modern MSM to call people who lie, "LIARS."

    And, having nothing to lose, R&R are gambling that the MSM, having never seen a barrage of such blatant lies, with this kind of intensity and frequence on a national level, that's not a bad bet.

    If the MSM starts calling them out on them, they're probably toast.
    If not, they can win.

    The entire GOP, like rats cornered in a demographic corner of their own making, also has nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
    And I mean, EVERY thing!

    If we're to survive as a democratic republic, we have to depend on "The Fourth Estate."

    It would be nice if they remembered why, for just such occasions, the Founding Fathers insisted on a free press.

    Who am I kidding?
    It would be nice if more than a handful or two of them even knew...

    And they don't have long, if they decide to even try, to decide on which is more important - a well informed electorate, or their phony-baloney jobs.

    No easy decision, when some of the national reporters earn high 5, to 6, and some, even 7-figure salaries.

    High risk. To what reward?

    After all, many of the people in the Conservative powers that be, are their bosses in the MSM.

  • Kevin Mulcahy on August 30, 2012 1:43 PM:

    It would be nice if the press would simply point out that Romney does not have a plan, but simply a goal. A goal is where you want to end up; a plan, especially for a supposedly successful business man, is a detailed, step-by step strategy for realizing the vision. As a sedentary sixty-one year old I could claim a goal of running a marathon, and I'd have about as detailed a plan as Romney does for balancing the budget--that is, utterly wishful thinking.

  • BillFromPA on August 30, 2012 1:46 PM:

    Isn't it an actual part of Mormon Proselytizing to lie to prospective converts? Isn't it considered 'honorable' if such lying leads to more conversions? Here is a cult that knows their beliefs would appear batshit crazy to most of the rest of the world, so they're used to hiding their real beliefs and considering it to be par for the course. This explains a lot.

  • jim filyaw on August 30, 2012 2:10 PM:

    this convention has been an excursion into the right wing echo chamber. astounding, scary, and enlightening. black is white, odd is even, up is down,... all the constraints of reality have disappeared. these people really see and hear things that mere mortals are not privy to. i'm almost convinced as i feel the urge to buy some peanuts to toss at the first black person i see. (please, scotty, beam me up, soon!)

  • Gandalf on August 30, 2012 2:24 PM:

    The real problem here isn;t one of ideology or lying. People that have no eral plan seldom if ever execute well. Imagine a pro football team telling the world that they have the best passing attack and that they'll win if you all just go along with them. Well that dog don't hunt. The real problem is that these people aren't competant enough to actually you know run a country.

  • mb on August 30, 2012 2:26 PM:

    "I don’t like that conclusion. It doesn’t look “fair” when you say that. We’ve been conditioned to want to give both sides relatively equal praise and blame, and the fact of the matter is, I would like to give both sides relatively equal praise and blame."

    I'm so sick of this mentality coming from so=called progressives/liberals. It is apparent that our political process has to be pushed to the absolute worst extreme before even "our" guys start to push back.

    IMO, that undoes any of the rest of his column. Ezra has scaled the heights of Mount Hack.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on August 30, 2012 2:35 PM:

    I find it rather ironic that this campaign of lies is being brought to us by the party who also gave us the "You LIE!!!" heard 'round the world.

    My, how things have changed. From indecorous moments in the House to feigning blithe ignorance when the Liars Telethon airs. Ethical and moral consistency ain't this party's forte evidently...

  • rik on August 30, 2012 2:58 PM:

    I think there is another element associated to this that haven't heard much about. Romney is discrediting the independent fact checkers in the process.

    For example, when his budget was scored by the Tax Policy Center (TPC), they "bent over backwards to be generous". What was Romney's response? He specified that the assumptions made were unrealistic. While not really an inaccurate statement he know that this will just allow those not familiar to see it through their own bias. In other words, chalk it up to the a liberal bias.

    Even worse, Romney is still able to use the Center when he likes their report as people won't pay enough attention to realize he is talking about the same entity as this must be an unbiased organization, not one of those liberal ones.

  • jjm on August 30, 2012 2:59 PM:

    Well, to @ c u n d gulag: the MSM IS beginning to call out the lies: AP, CNN, Boston Globe, and even Fox News--one commentator wondered if Ryan's speech broke the record for the number of lies in a single speech.

    But really, I think @James' 4th hypothesis -- the go for broke because you are losing so badly -- has to be it.

  • maw on August 30, 2012 3:08 PM:

    This WM blog now has a pop-up ad from American Crossroads that blames Obama for "the war on women" and "Obama's economy" for women's poverty. It's typical Rove stuff. Have you seen it?

  • SecularAnimist on August 30, 2012 3:29 PM:

    Ed Kilgore wrote: "My theory is simple: Paul Ryan is a truly radical ideologue who is used to disguising his radicalism"

    My theory is simple: Paul Ryan is a bought-and-paid-for corporate stooge and a cynical phony, who plays a "libertarian" on TV and spouts Ayn Rand drivel to bamboozle gullible Ditto-Heads (and liberal bloggers) with bullshit.

    Except of course, when he's addressing right-wing Christians, at which point he will just as happily throw Objectivism under the bus and proclaim himself a disciple of Supply-Side Jesus.

    It's all a load of fake, phony, trumped up, pseudo-ideological crap, and he doesn't believe a word of it -- his only real core value is to do whatever it takes to enrich himself and his ruthless, rapacious corporate cronies and financial backers at the expense of the American people.

    Romney and Ryan are not ideologues. They are white-collar crooks masquerading as ideologues.

  • bcinaz on August 30, 2012 4:13 PM:

    What will this look like if they win? What form will the lying take when all these hands are on the real levers of real power? With a complicit House and paralyzed Senate?

    What will they not do to keep power?

    It's no longer an intellectual exercise, there's real danger in what's happening now.

    Does anybody else see a 'cult of personality' surrounding Ryan?

  • Doug on August 30, 2012 5:57 PM:

    "It doesn't look 'fair' when you say '...or this isn't true'. We've been conditioned to want to give both sides relatively equal praise or blame, and the fact of the matter is, I would like to give both sides relatively equal praise and blame." Ezra Klein as cited by Ed Kilgore

    Since when is it Klein's job to worry about having to give both sides equal ammounts of praise and blame? He's not reporting on the doings of four-year olds, he reporting on the people who want to control the national government! If one side lies, then report it.
    That last sentence just destroyed any credibility Mr. Klein may have had. He can't even fall back on the "My editors..." line since he flatly stated "equal praise and blame for both sides" is his own PREFERRED position.
    How many times has he ALREADY refused to call something for what it was because he didn't want to "blame" someone without having something else to balance it with?
    Guess he really likes those cocktail parties...

  • yellowdog on August 30, 2012 9:01 PM:

    Which is worse:

    Romney - who knows what he is saying is nonsense but who doubles down on it anyway?
    Ryan - who seems to believe his own nonsense because he has never left the right-wing echo chamber?

    Ezra's questions are, as usual, on point. These two could be about four months from having to put together a government--and they seem to have no detailed plans or they are running away from the plans they do have. I imagine they'll still claim a popular mandate--but the opposite is true. They are trying really hard to win without showing their true policy colors. Even their supporters are more anti-Obama than pro-Romney--and Romney and Ryan's basic policy positions are even less popular than they are. They are trying to ignite popular fury against Obama--because their own policy views are not broadly or deeply popular--even in their own party. The dishonesty is deep and it is by design.

  • Anonymous on August 31, 2012 9:02 AM:


    Isn't it an actual part of Mormon Proselytizing to lie to prospective converts? Isn't it considered 'honorable' if such lying leads to more conversions?

    IF, instead of viewing this as an "election" for leadersip of a nation, we view this contest as the ultimate missionary effort by "the elect" to convert that nation, the behavior of Romney/Ryan becomes a little clearer - and perhaps more despicable.

    Imagine what this campaign season would look like if a) the roles were reversed (Ryan - a conservative Catholic - for pResident, and Romney for veep); or b) the GOP contenders were members of Scientology or some other less-reputable "faith". the squealing about freedom of religion would take on whole new iterations of screechingly loud. Romney may not be much of a candidate/leader/businessman/whatever, but he has managed to do two things: 1) mainstream Mormonism to the FundiEvangelist set in ways not previously imaginable, and 2) leverage the US-as-Divinely-Inspired-Theological-Republic to his own and his faith's advantage. Those two achievements may not be able to win him the pResidency, but they go a long way to making Mormonism a lot less suspect to a large segment of the electorate - at the same time giving Mormonism a national platform from which to spread.