Political Animal


June 28, 2011 9:20 AM Romney won’t let reality get in the way

By Steve Benen

Mitt Romney campaigned in Concord, N.H., talking to employees at the Lincoln Financial Group about his agenda. It was an odd choice of venues — Lincoln was a major beneficiary of the 2008 bank bailout, which Romney claims to have opposed.

Stranger still was the former governor’s choice in rhetoric. “The Obama Administration has not been able to deal with the number one issue the country was concerned about when he became president, the economy,” Romney said. “He did not cause the recession, but he made it worse.”

Greg Sargent explained that the “made it worse” argument has been repeatedly fact-checked, and repeatedly proven false, but it doesn’t stop Romney from “cheerfully repeating the bogus claim.”

Again, what we’re seeing here are the limits of fact-checking — something we rediscover every cycle. Candidates, party committees and outside groups make false claims. Media fact-checkers go to work and debunk the claims. The candidates and groups go right on making them anyway. Reporters stop pointing out that they’re false.

No question, unemployment remains chronically high, and this is a major political problem for Obama, but has anyone asked Romney on the trail to justify his continuing assertion as outright fact that Obama made the recession “worse”? It has now become absolutely central to his campaign message, yet it’s finding its way into story after story and segment after segment with no rebuttal whatsoever.

Let me make this easy for Romney and the reporters who cover his campaign. It’s a surprisingly straightforward exercise, consisting of two short questions:

1. When Obama took office, the economy was shrinking. Now it’s growing. In what way is that “worse”?

2. When Obama took office, the economy was hemorrhaging jobs. Now it’s gaining jobs. In what way is that “worse”?

As best as I can tell, there are basically only three explanations. Romney is either lying and hoping no one will notice; he doesn’t know what “worse” means; or he considers a healthier economy worse than a deep recession.

Which is it, Mitt?

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • TR on June 28, 2011 9:26 AM:

    He's clearly lying, but the real question is -- how do we push the truth back into the picture?

    How do we get journalists to, you know, practice actual journalism and say "no, that's not true"?


    P.S. My captcha just had the first word in what looked like 1-pt font, written sideways. I couldn't even make out the letters and had to reload the page. This thing is ridiculous.

  • hell's littlest angel on June 28, 2011 9:29 AM:

    I believe Romney's boilerplate answer to both of those questions is, the unemployment rate was x in November of 2008 and it is y today. (Yes, the mere fact of the Kenyan usurper's election caused the economy to suffer for those three months before he was inaugurated.)
    That is also his answer to any follow-up questions, should they be asked.

  • flyonthewall on June 28, 2011 9:30 AM:

    My 401k has increased in value right around 60% since Obama took office. Just imagine if we weren't in a recession made worse.

  • martin on June 28, 2011 9:31 AM:

    Silly fact based liberals.

    Obama made it worse by not cutting taxes which would have caused the economy to explode with Reaganesque vigor. Obama's way stopped the glorious Republican recovery, therefore, the economy is worse than if the Repubs were allowed to do their thing.

  • AndThenThere'sThat on June 28, 2011 9:33 AM:

    As best as I can tell, there are basically only three explanations. Romney is either lying and hoping no one will notice; he doesn�t know what �worse� means; or he considers a healthier economy worse than a deep recession.

    Or D) facts are for liberals. The GOP base knows by way of religious belief that the economy, the country, hell even the universe "feels" worse since the black guy started spending white people's money.

  • rrk1 on June 28, 2011 9:37 AM:

    In today's political reality (if one can even use that term to describe what is happening) it's the rules of Joseph Goebbles, the Nazi propaganda genius, that prevail: Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth. And the bigger the lie the truer it becomes. It works. The Rethugs know it. Romney knows it. Rover knows it.

    The well oiled Rethug propaganda machine and echo chamber overwhelms the impotent journalism still worthy of the name, and the uneducated nitwits in the hinterlands of the homeland eat it up. Give 'em what they want to hear, and they'll make you into a hero, a solon of truth, and the man of the hour. Well, maybe only a few minutes these days.

    Not only are so many so-called journalists lazy, but so is the public. The diminishing attention span of just about everyone coupled with a general unwillingness to examine our own assumptions and perceptions makes having a robust democracy almost impossible. It's certainly become impossible in this country.

  • EC Sedgwick on June 28, 2011 9:38 AM:

    Sure is nice to hear the unvarnished truth here! LOL

  • Laurie on June 28, 2011 9:39 AM:

    It seems like this is right out of the old playbook, accuse your opponent of what what's true about yourself or your party. Maybe this will backfire under closer examination.

  • Danp on June 28, 2011 9:41 AM:

    Someone might at least ask Romney which specific things he thinks Obama did to make things worse. Lily Ledbetter? Raise minimum wage? Extend unemployment benefits? Infrastructure improvements?

    And what policies is it that he proposes that would improve things? Lower taxes? Obama did that. Fewer regulations or less enforcement? In short how does his underpants gnome work?

  • c u n d gulag on June 28, 2011 9:45 AM:

    "In what way is that worse?"


    For one, it a Democrat who's doing it.

    Second, it's a black who's one doing it.

    If Repulicans were doing it, they'd be singing their own praises from the mountain tops, and trying to lead us in "Happy Days Are Here Again!"

  • Richard on June 28, 2011 9:45 AM:

    There is a fourth option and it is usually the one behind GOP chatter.

    They don't know anything at all but "feel" their thoughts must be true because they came up with them and they fit with their agenda.

    You see this everywhere. Outrageous statements This morning Bachmann was on TV saying Obama is 'ignoring the economy' and (the host Matt Lauer did not issue a peep) and she "feels" entitled to say that because it fits the GOP narrative and her needs. She is not necessarily lying she is just spewing without reviewing the facts.

    Romney cannot run against Obama's record so he creates one that he can run against but he believes in it. If elected he will run the country with that style as well.

  • walt on June 28, 2011 9:55 AM:

    I think Romney's campaign will focus on his "successful businessman" bona fides. But there's a problem: his business involved buying good companies, gutting them, pushing them into bankruptcy, and firing tens of thousands of workers in the process. In effect, Romney combines the worst of Gilded-Age excess with the Globalization-Era Middle Finger. Romney's lies are necessary to his narrative. Indeed, Republicans probably know how vulnerable Romney could theoretically be if Democrats actually chose to make an issue of his record.

  • Live Free or Die on June 28, 2011 10:02 AM:

    "How do we get journalists to, you know, practice actual journalism and say "no, that's not true"?"

    That is easy. Just change the (R) to a (D). Then the journalist will be all over it. The media imposes double standards on the Democrats, but does not apply the same standards to Republicans.

    When the Democrats said that the GOP is trying to end Medicare as we know it, ,Politifact said they were liars based on a weird technicality, despite there being a 40 year record of various republicans saying they want to eliminate Medicare. If one syllable is misplaced, the media will hammer a Democrat as a crazy liberal. But if a crazy Republican woman says crazy things, that are completely untrue,she still is considered Presidential material, and she is allowed to complain about unfair questions.

  • zeitgeist on June 28, 2011 10:09 AM:

    I understand Steve's point and his frustration, but we mock this at our own peril.

    "AndThenTheresThat" came pretty close, actually, posting this:

    Or D) facts are for liberals. The GOP base knows by way of religious belief that the economy, the country, hell even the universe "feels" worse

    The Republicans understand what eggheaded lefties have always struggled with -- perception trumps reality for voters. Several polls just last week showed majorities believe they are worse off now than under W, and that huge majorities believe the nation is heading the wrong direction. With that as their internal filter, they will be quick to believe Romney, and slow to believe any contrary facts. Romney is an authoritative figure reinforcing the frame they already carry around at a gut level.

    Add to that the large American Crossroads ad buy purporting to answer Steve's question. It shows comparisons between Jan 2009 and now of the unemployment rate, gas prices, and the federal debt -- all of which appear worse. We are stuck arguing about the trendlines and directions, but the left has yet to effectively publicize this in an easy-tograsp way (I'll say for the thousandth time we should have been running paid spots of the bikini graph for the last 6 months now).

    Romney may not be the best messenger, but this line of attack is a real problem for Obama and the Dems, and the longer we don't respond, like the Swiftboat lies it will get harder to throw off when we finally address it. Simply making fun of it or arguing that it lacks a factual basis will not carry the day for us.

  • DAY on June 28, 2011 10:10 AM:

    There's a Hot Babe in my office, but she's seeing someone, so I said her boyfriend has herpes, and is cheating on her with the new temp.

    Then I said I'm just come from my annual STD checkup, and I'd like to take her to dinner, but first I have to go cash in this Powerball ticket.

    The technique, I am told, works equally as well in political campaigning.

  • chopin on June 28, 2011 10:36 AM:

    I have enjoyed zeitgeist's comments on this site since forever and today's is no exception. Thank you Steve for providing us a continuous stream of reasons for despising the GOP. But it has gotten to the point where my anger is directed at the pathetic response from Democrats. Zeitgeist is spot-on with respect to perception and messaging.

  • Upper West on June 28, 2011 11:06 AM:

    Zeitgeist is absolutely correct, and Steve's posts on this are somewhat naive. The unemployment percentage is the one economic indicator that the average person follows -- not GDP growth, trends, etc. And that is up since 1/09. Simple and understandable. Case closed. Wrong, but that's irrelevant.

    In 2010, Crossroads, the Kochs et al. convinced people that Democrats were the great threat to Medicare ($500 billion in cuts!) and were solely responsible for the bailouts.

    We wonks know that Romney is full of crap, but perceptions trump reality, especially when those perceptions are leavened with zombie lies ("Obama tripled the deficit!")

  • hell's littlest angel on June 28, 2011 11:53 AM:

    Richard: She is not necessarily lying she is just spewing without reviewing the facts.

    She is then, by the Harry G. Frankfurt definition, talking bullshit.

  • Schtick on June 28, 2011 12:38 PM:

    He's a repub. He hates America. He hates common people having a job, getting a paycheck with a decent wage and having a place to live.

    crapcha....James tsuhjty....nooooo!!

  • J on June 28, 2011 12:52 PM:

    Lat year the economy seemed to be picking up steam - then what happened - we had the mid-terms, repubs got in as governors and yes men in the house, governors started laying off employees by the thousands, killing programs for the poor,
    the new congresspeople just did what they were told and voted whatever the repubs wanted. The government stopped doing business of any kind except violating womens health care issues, Now after all of that the economy is slowing - and who is to blame?????

  • bdop4 on June 28, 2011 1:52 PM:

    There's a third question: How do republican economic policies create jobs?

    Any answer will likely rely on trickle-down theology and confidence fairy tales, neither of which have any connection to the creation of one job.

  • Forrest_Leeson on June 28, 2011 3:11 PM:

    "When Obama took office, the economy was hemorrhaging jobs. Now it's gaining jobs. In what way is that 'worse'?"

    In the sense that due to population expansion the employment situation is getting worse, not better.

    "La[s]t year the economy seemed to be picking up steam - then what happened"

    To quote Joseph Stiglitz:
    "What was needed was a stimulus of at least 50 percent larger. Even the President's own economic adviser talked about the need for a $1.2 trillion bill. But unfortunately, President Obama wasn't given that choice. Even before it was presented to him, it was downscaled to a choice between $600 and $800 billion, and he pushed for the larger number.
    "The second problem was that about a third of it is in tax cuts. And with Americans burdened with debt, with the uncertainties in the job market, much of that tax cut went into savings, not into spending. And the nature of a stimulus is you have to spend it. So while the money may have given them more security, may have provided individual benefits, it did not provide the stimulus that, for instance, directing money to help states maintain their universities, schools, teachers, would have done."

  • Maria on June 28, 2011 10:03 PM:

    Typical GOP strategy: tell them whatever you want, as long as it makes the Dems look bad. Republicans will believe whatever the GOP feeds them, so this strategy works.

  • pissant on June 29, 2011 11:52 PM:

    Interesting the amount of comments saying Republicans say things are worse because the President is black. As if they wouldn't say this if Hillary was prez? To me the line "he made things worse" is standard political fare.

    Sure, the big banks are making record profits, but unemployment is higher than ever and main street is still hurting.

    If people think bank bailouts, the stimulus and an expensive health care mandate have set the economy on the right track, Obama will be reelected.

    If people believe he made it worse, someone else is in the White House in 2013. Pretty simple.

    Don't really see how saying Obama's policies have made things worse is a shocking lie - or that it's racism, Romney's underpants or anything else in play. It's political rhetoric, sure, but alot of people feel that way. The voters ultimately will decide Obama's fate.

  • Tyson on June 30, 2011 10:04 PM:

    What will you liberals do when Herman Cain wins the republican primary? Without the race card, all you'll have is an empty "Blame Bush" chant. It'll be pretty tough to sell the Hopey-Changey stuff when Obama has 4 years of hoping it would change behind him.