No matter how wealthy, no matter how handsome, any American presidential candidate is still out there on a smile and a shoeshine.
He has to be a pitchman, a crowd-pleaser, the guy who can sell snowballs at the North Pole. Anyone with any experience in electoral campaigns knows that, and we all ought to cut the candidates some slack when it comes to stretching the truth or getting tripped up by an open mic. Even so, whatever the concessions made to wrapping oneself in the flag and playing the role of Someone for Everyone, there are limits. At some point, you are supposed to be talking about real problems and workable policies, and you are supposed to be making sense, not talking nonsense.
And eventually there is a tipping point. It seems that point was crossed this week by the Romney/Ryan campaign, and what had been a long series of increasingly implausible or disturbing or offensive campaign statements has become a cascade of distortions, false insinuations, and outright lies. The latest news in this regard–but soon to be outdated, I’m sure–is that the claims of massive campaign donations far in excess of Obama’s were, well, just a tad inflated: OK, actually five times greater than what Romney could actually use on his own race, with the rest committed to other Republican campaigns.
And I’m shocked, shocked to hear this. Just as the Bush administration was not going to be fettered by the “reality-based community,” the Romney/Ryan campaign, in the immortal words of their chief pollster, Neil Newhouse, is not going to “be dictated by fact-checkers“? Google “Romney lies” or “Ryan lies” or “Tea Party lies” and you’ll see that there is a cottage industry developing just to keep track of the deceit.
At some point, however, you have to ask: why are these guys lying so much? The short answer is always the same: because they have to pander to the far right, Tea Party, Young Guns, Jacobin core of the contemporary Republican Party. Those are the people who controlled the nomination and are the activist base for the election, and they seem to thrive on delusion. OK, fair enough, but the general election is all about the swing voters in swing states, and by definition they don’t qualify as right-wingers. So, why do Romney and Ryan have to lie so much?
The answer is simple: they are caught in the contradiction of running for office in a democracy, but in order to govern on behalf of the wealthy. They need mass support to get elected, but their policies benefit only the few and the very few. Those policies involve the abandonment of public institutions and infrastructure, and destruction of the ideals and the social contract that have been the basis of America’s promise and its prosperity, and only to continue the massive transfer of wealth upward that began in the Reagan administration. They would make most Americans poorer and social mobility ever more difficult, so that those who have the most could get most of the rest.
And who would vote for that? As a result, the campaign for a feudal America has to lie. You might say we need a new word in the language: a word for policies so far removed from reality or decency that they cannot be advocated without lying.
We don’t really need a label, however, but rather better, more centrist Republican policy proposals–the kind that don’t have to depend on deceit–and a similar return to more sensible public discourse. Indeed, I remain open to the idea that Republican candidates can tell the truth. And if they want to prove the point, they can start any time. If that means that they have to adjust their promises, alter their policies, return to bipartisanship, and make a good faith effort to help the American people thrive in difficult times, so much the better.
Photograph of Romney on the stump in Omaha, Nebraska, May 10, by Jae C. Hong/Associated Press.
Bonus link: Don’t miss “A Conservative History of the United States” at The New Yorker.