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November 23, 2011 2:05 PM Why it’s going to be a long year

By Steve Benen

Several years ago, philosopher Harry Frankfurt wrote a fascinating book called, “On Bullshit.” Among other things, the book sought to draw a distinction between b.s. and lies, and at the risk of oversimplifying a sophisticated point, the key difference is considering the truth irrelevant.

A liar makes false claims. A b.s. artist doesn’t much care what’s true or false, because facts are irrelevant in the person’s larger agenda. Liars care what’s true and deliberately say the opposite; b.s. artists are indifferent to what’s true and tend to see facts as inconveniences that simply get in the way.

In light Mitt Romney’s obvious and glaring falsehood in his first television ad, take a wild guess which camp the Republican’s presidential campaign falls into.

By evening, the ad had been attacked, derided, parodied, and ruled “pants on fire” worthy by Politifact. The Romney campaign could have cared less.

“We want to engage the president,” explained Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom in the spin room. “We look at him as our rival. It’s all deliberate; it was all very intentional.”

Romney adviser Ron Kaufman, an RNC committee member and longtime operative, simply said that the ad “worked.”

“They always squeal the most when you hold a mirror up to them,” he said, “and they overreacted, clearly. All they did was make the ad more effective.”

Just so we’re clear, Romney and his team lied. Then they got caught. Then they were pleased.

I suppose one could make the case that the leading Republican presidential campaign has a vaguely sociopathic appreciation for the public discourse, but I think Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit” tells us all we need to know. Truth, facts, evidence, reason, decency, fairness — for Romney and his team, none of this matters. It’s not that they’re considering whether to be honorable; they’ve convinced themselves that the question itself is irrelevant.

What matters is what “works.” And what “works” is what gets aired on television. Usually, professionals are slightly embarrassed when they get caught lying, but the embarrassment is motivated by a sense of shame — the truth is good, being good is worthwhile, deliberately ignoring the truth is bad, and no one wants to be bad.

But there is no embarrassment when such moral niceties are thrown out the window.

This is, by the way, the very first ad Romney chose to run, setting the bar for how he and his team will conduct themselves over the next year.

Be afraid.

Postscript: WMUR, the station airing Romney’s lie, has said it is legally prohibited from rejecting the ad over inaccuracies.

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.

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  • internet tough guy on November 23, 2011 2:14 PM:

    Eighth grade called; it said Mitt was being immature.

  • BigRed on November 23, 2011 2:17 PM:

    Let's see how long the Romney's continue with this stuff after Letterman, Leno, etc, begin making cracks about it. Then SNL will do a few skits.

    Sure it will get Romney a lot of attention but lying ads will not help his Mr. Flip Flop image.

  • Danp on November 23, 2011 2:17 PM:

    WMUR, the station airing Romney’s lie, has said it is legally prohibited from rejecting the ad over inaccuracies.

    Good. They should say that immediately after each airing.

  • Burr Deming on November 23, 2011 2:19 PM:

    Steve, you called it right over a year ago. Many conservatives, you gave and example, don't really care what's true as much as what sells.

  • c u n d gulag on November 23, 2011 2:19 PM:

    Why can't Mitt be BOTH a bullshitter AND a liar?

  • JMG on November 23, 2011 2:24 PM:

    WMUR is not legally prevented from running a news story pointing out that Romney is a liar, but since the station would be showing reruns of Farmer Grey cartoons if it weren't for the quadrennial political ad revenue it rakes in, I don't expect that to happen.

  • Peter C on November 23, 2011 2:26 PM:

    "WMUR, the station airing Romney’s lie, has said it is legally prohibited from rejecting the ad over inaccuracies."

    ... but a MoveOn Superbowl ad could be rejected because it was critical of President Bush???

    Sorry, WMUR, that's 'bullshit'.

    The media choose what to air and they are not on our side. They choose based upon profit and the dictates or their owners (the 1%).

  • coralsea on November 23, 2011 2:35 PM:

    After 8 long years of Cheney/Bu$h lying through their friggin teeth about everything they felt like, the rest of the cult, er, party has correctly deduced that truth-telling is an effete liberal trait.

  • Sasha on November 23, 2011 2:35 PM:

    So the Romney campaign has said that it was intending to be untruthful? I guess Mitt has a firm conviction for something after all.

  • Meanie-meanie, tickle a person on November 23, 2011 2:36 PM:

    WMUR, the station airing Romney�s lie, has said it is legally prohibited from rejecting the ad over inaccuracies.

    Nice straw man you got there. Shame if somethin' was to happen to it...
    That wasn't a feakin' inaccuracy, that was out-and-out misrepresentation. Are they so dumb they don't know that? The words were as accurate as modern recording technology can make 'em, they just weren't his. The finest media money can buy. And every 2 years they sure do get bought...

  • SW on November 23, 2011 2:39 PM:

    I wouldn't be so indignant. Although I wouldn't expect the President to stoop to this level, if this is the standard, third parties are going to have a field day with Willard. He is a target rich environment, and if this is the sort of thing that is not out of bounds, Willard is going to be very sorry that this particular genie is out of the bottle. Besides our people are just more creative and better at parody and mockery than they are. Think SNL and the Daily Show. They just can't touch this.

  • Peter C on November 23, 2011 2:42 PM:

    They can't win using the truth; they thrive in the 'no-facts' zone. This was the whole motivation behind FOX; they needed a place where they could make statements which would be untrue yet given as unchallenged facts. EVERYTHING broadcast on FOX is intended to reinforce some vital Republican 'truth'. Sadly, it is VERY EFFECTIVE. I run into people all the time who have 'heard' some 'fact' about Obama and believe it in a way that influences their 'thinking'.

    The Republican's willingness to promote and 'capitalize on' the ignorance of the American public is utterly dishonorable and should disqualify them in the minds of any responsible citizen.

  • Kim Grundy on November 23, 2011 2:48 PM:

    Michael Steele has defended this ad at least twice on MSNBC.

    He sees no problem with lying, and claims that both sides do it.

    Of course, he offers no evidence beyond his assertion.

  • hells littlest angel on November 23, 2011 2:55 PM:

    Frankfurt's book is a favorite of mine. It explains otherwise incomprehensible personalities such as Romney, Gingrich, Palin and, most pathetic of them all, Michael Steele. Just send out a stream of words that make some reference to reality, without any regard to truth or falsity, and hope the suckers give you the benefit of the doubt.

  • Danp on November 23, 2011 2:56 PM:

    I wonder how important it was to the Romney campaign to release this ad as the Daily Show goes on a week's hiatus. That would have been the only TV outlet I would have expected to expose it, other than maybe Maddow, Matthews and Olbermann, none of whom reach "real Americans."

  • Grumpy on November 23, 2011 2:59 PM:

    "The Romney campaign could have cared less."

    Really? Seems like their level of caring is already at a minimum.

    If Romney, or his voiceover artist, applied the McCain campaign quote for themselves, repurposed to refer to Obama, that would've been honest. As honest as Romney's pretend concern for the economy can be.

  • Derek on November 23, 2011 3:08 PM:

    I don't know that the Romney campaign is doing anything but catering to an audience.

    The statement "Truth, facts, evidence, reason, decency, fairness — for Romney and his team, none of this matters. It’s not that they’re considering whether to be honorable; they’ve convinced themselves that the question itself is irrelevant." is not unique to the Romney campaign, but rather is the status quo for the Republican party base. I see this just another example of them supplying a demand.

  • Tony D on November 23, 2011 3:20 PM:

    Why be afraid Steve? Dammit! Fight f**ken fire with fire! Slam these assholes with the truth and LIE when necessary. Being afraid is the last thing the Dems should do.

  • ComradeAnon on November 23, 2011 3:24 PM:

    So, we are to decide if he's a lying bullshitter or a bullshitting liar? I'm comfortable with either/or.

  • Jenny on November 23, 2011 3:36 PM:

    Steve,

    Contact WMUR and ask them why did they reject Move-On's super bowl ad but accept this piece of crap

  • hells littlest angel on November 23, 2011 3:42 PM:

    Political Animal
    Blog
    November 23, 2011 3:00 PM Quote of the Day

    By Steve Benen
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    Kristi Watts, co-host of the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “The 700 Club,” was able to interview former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and towards the end of their discussion, Watts asked, “What’s that one thing at Thanksgiving you just have to have?”

    Rice replied, “Mac and cheese … but only once a year.”

    The show’s main host, radical TV preacher Pat Robertson, seemed confused by the exchange.

    For those who can’t watch videos from your work computers, Robertson asked his African-American co-host, “What is this ‘mac and cheese,’ is that a black thing?”

    He was entirely serious.

    In fact, in context, Robertson wasn’t confused about the notion of African Americans eating mac and cheese at Thanksgiving; but rather, he just doesn’t know what mac and cheese is, and seems to think the dish itself is “a black thing.”

    Just as a point of interest, I’d also note for context that it really wasn’t long ago that Pat Robertson was a powerful figure in Republican Party politics. In 1988, the guy very nearly won the Iowa presidential caucuses.
    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.
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    gussie on November 23, 2011 3:02 PM:

    Mac daddy and cheddah.

    exlibra on November 23, 2011 3:10 PM:

    Pat Robertson: the white meat turkey, all year 'round.

    DDXS on November 23, 2011 3:11 PM:

    HA AHAH AHA HAH AHAHAH AHA HA AHA AHAHAHH

    That guy should be far away from any type of recording device.

    How do you walk that one back?

    jim hill on November 23, 2011 3:12 PM:

    He stuck a feather in his hat, but we called it senilility.

    Danp on November 23, 2011 3:16 PM:

    Some people call it pasta al forno with quattro formaggi. But then those people pay more.

    Jurgan on November 23, 2011 3:18 PM:

    It's not important, but it sure is funny. Why, that's downright UnAmerican!

    Josef K on November 23, 2011 3:27 PM:

    Be fair, guys. The poor preacher is pushing 81 and is waaaaay past his shelf life. Small surprise he doesn't know any Soul Foods.

    TR on November 23, 2011 3:31 PM:

    Bernie Mac and Cheese?

    GK on November 23, 2011 3:37 PM:

    Reminds me of when my grandma (born in Buffalo NY) didn't recognize the phrase "World Series."

    square1 on November 23, 2011 3:39 PM:

    Reminds me of my old t-shirt: "Mac & Cheese: It's A Black Thing. You Wouldn't Understand."

    Sister Artemis on November 23, 2011 3:39 PM:

    Josef K on November 23, 2011 3:27 PM: "Be fair, guys. The poor preacher is pushing 81 and is waaaaay past his shelf life. Small surprise he doesn't know any Soul Foods."

    Past his shelf life, yes. I've thought for some time that the dear preacher is drifting from reality more and more in the last 5 or 10 years. By comparison with earlier years, where-in he was also pretty unglued from the real world. But less so.

    But "soul food?" I'm as white as they come and mac and cheese was pretty much part and parcel of every household I knew as a kid, part of buffet lines and school lunches and church potlucks in many mostly-white towns. It's bizarre to me that Robertson wouldn't know what it is, and seems like just one more sign he's succumbing to a failing memory.

    hells littlest angel on November 23, 2011 3:41 PM:

    I guess the most important distinction is that the liar has enough of a moral sense to understand that he is being untruthful, while the bullshitter is amorally indifferent to the truth or falsity of his statement. A liar, caught in a lie, feels shame, or at least knows he should feel shame. A bullshitter confronted with a lie just professes that he has no idea what you're talking about.

    Comparatively speaking, you can trust a liar.

  • hells littlest angel on November 23, 2011 3:50 PM:

    Oops, sorry.

    I guess the most important distinction is that the liar has enough of a moral sense to understand that he is being untruthful, while the bullshitter is amorally indifferent to the truth or falsity of his statement. A liar, caught in a lie, feels shame, or at least knows he should feel shame. A bullshitter confronted with a lie just professes that he has no idea what you're talking about.

    Comparatively speaking, you can trust a liar.

  • chi res on November 23, 2011 3:57 PM:

    Contact WMUR and ask them why did they reject Move-On's super bowl ad but accept this piece of crap

    Media outlets are required by federal law to run ads from political candidates "as is". That law does not extend to PACs.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on November 23, 2011 4:01 PM:

    Again, call Romney out on it with a Dem ad showing what Romney said and then showing exactly what Obama said. Then conclude IN REAL BIG LETTERS:

    MITCH ROMNEY IS A LIAR.

    Hit him over and over with it. Problem solved.

  • Dan Tyler on November 23, 2011 4:03 PM:

    WMUR is perfectly free to run disclaimers before the Romney ad saying, "The ad you are about to see is a lie. We are prohibited by law from blocking it, but we would if we could."

  • TCinLA on November 23, 2011 4:21 PM:

    Truth, facts, evidence, reason, decency, fairness � for the Republican Party, none of this matters. It�s not that they�re considering whether to be honorable; they�ve convinced themselves that the question itself is irrelevant.

    there. Corrected it.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on November 23, 2011 4:40 PM:

    I could think any lower of Romney.

  • Gus on November 23, 2011 4:50 PM:

    I want to know what kind of people elect a lying bullshitter to the ultimate position of power and authority. What kind of people?

  • Brock on November 23, 2011 5:07 PM:

    The best quote from Prof. Frankfurt's book is one which is very applicable here: "Bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are."

  • g on November 23, 2011 5:13 PM:

    does it really "work?" What does Romney get out of it in the short run?

    He's not running against Obama in the New Hampshire primary; he's not winning any of those Republican primary votes from Obama.

    So all he's doing is letting the world know he's a liar, and tainting the credibility of any ad he runs in the general election.

    I can see an ad saying, ""Mitt Romney admitted he ran an unthruthful ad. So how can you believe anything he says now?"

  • tanstaafl on November 23, 2011 6:08 PM:

    At the risk of invoking Godwin's Law, I would also point out that Orwell stated it was the Fascists' goal or at least effect to "destroy history" by so blurring the line between truth and fiction that it was impossible to untangle after the fact.

    This was in his essays about the Spanish Civil War after he was struck by the way the fascist goverment didn't just lie by ignoring battles that they lost and exaggerating any battle they won, or claiming victory in indecisive campaigns. They would claim to have won battles that didn't take place at all, and then award medals for bravery and/or execute soldiers for cowardice in those fictional battles.

    The modern Republican Party is showing a similar disdain for the very idea of objective truth.

  • T-Rex on November 23, 2011 6:28 PM:

    This guy is a disgrace to the Church of Latter Day Saints. Is this how they want their values to be represented? Someone should officially reprimand him for this.

    And somebody should REALLY censure Craptcha. This is my third try, and I'm pretty sure I typed the first two correctly, despite their deliberately blacking out part of one letter.

  • Joel on November 23, 2011 6:36 PM:

    Y'all are totally missing the point.

    This ad is and will continue to be successful with its target audience precisely because of the responses above.

    It doesn't matter whether or not it is true. It only matters that it pisses off liberals. You have validated the core purpose of the ad. Congratulations!

  • Crissa on November 24, 2011 1:34 AM:

    What law?

    No, really.

    Media outlets are required by federal law to run ads from political candidates "as is". That law does not extend to PACs.

    Airing as-is is not the same as refusing to air. And the fed law only applies n days before an election - something like 30 or 90, I don't recall. And I don't know of any law that forces them to air them if they're outright lies.

    I do not know of any law which would require them to air the ad.

    In other words, I do not believe the tv station is telling the truth, either.

  • HMDK on November 24, 2011 11:45 AM:

    Joel, why... you're right!
    Liberals should cease to be upset about things because it might market bad with idiots who'd never vote for liberals anyway! Wait, what... OOoooh, you're republican!

  • Peter on November 24, 2011 12:30 PM:

    Now if the idiotic person who wrote this post would turn the lens on the current Commander in Grief, who takes lying, deceit, fabrications and broken promises to a whole new level not seen in the course of American history. Obama himself was the one who said campaign promises we basically made to be broken. Get a clue you jerk.

  • John in TX on November 24, 2011 3:11 PM:

    Just so we're clear, Romney and his team lied. Then they got caught. Then they were pleased.

    This is the predictable result of what our "business" and, even more laughable, our "law" schools have taught for the past 35 years: winning at all costs. Ethics, morality, fairness, the common good; all those are for losers. All that matters is winning; how you actually do it, whether it's lying, cheating, stealing, destroying other people or things is inconsequential. Just like the grotesque parents who scream, holler, browbeat and humiliate their unhappy children at a Saturday little league game, the actual enjoyment and sport of the game is irrelevant; all that matters is winning. This is a breakdown in society itself; no amount of laws can correct it.

  • Joel on November 24, 2011 6:48 PM:

    "Wait, what... OOoooh, you're republican!"

    Uh, no, I'm not. Otherwise, I wouldn't have been capable of posting a truthful statement here.

    You, however, are a moron.

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