Ten Miles Square

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September 10, 2012 9:43 AM Real Reporting

By Mark Kleiman

The two pillars of this year’s Republican campaign are mendacity and vacuity. Those pillars are mutually supporting, with the mendacity concealing the vacuity (they keep talking about “tough choices” without ever specifying any) and the vacuity concealing the mendacity (the magic asterisks in the budget arithmetic).

The success of that strategy depends on two preconditions:

(1) Voters either so in the dark they don’t notice they’re being bullshat or so in love with the idea of a free lunch (or so full of hatred for the Kenyan Muslim Socialist) that they willingly suspend their disbelief; and

(2) A stenographic press (cf. Colbert’s classic exposition) willing to report the statements without, at the same time, pointing out their falsity or emptiness.

Today we see two more indications that condition (2), though a reasonable assumption based on the recent past, may not be valid year. Tom Edsall points to one of the magic asterisks in the Ryan Budget – “Function 920,” which sounds as if it comes out of the file cabinet in Room 101 – and unveils some of the horror show it’s designed to conceal. He then gives it a name, which might even catch on: “the Ryan Sinkhole.” And Josh Gerstein at Politico undresses Mitt Romney’s claim that his silence on Afghanistan in his acceptance speech was c0unterbalanced by his having discussed the topic the previous day before the American Legion. Here’s the full text of the passage that Romney later described as having “described my policy as it relates to Afghanistan.”

Of course, we are still at war in Afghanistan. We still have uniformed men and women in conflict, risking their lives just as you once did. How deeply we appreciate their sacrifice. We salute them. We honor them. We respect and love them.

There! If that doesn’t bring Mullah Omar in carrying a white flag, I don’t know what will.

P.T. Barnum is supposed to have said that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. By the same token, very few elections have been lost underrating the servility of the American political press corps. But this year may be different.

Update James Fallows points out (as Harold Pollack had already noted) that Norah O’Donnell hammered Paul Ryan on Face the Nation for his slipperiness on defense spending.


According to the journalistic rule that three events constitute a trend, I call a trend toward actual journalism. Yippee!

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the University of California Los Angeles.
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