The most surprising thing about Mitt Romney since he began laying the groundwork for his 2012 campaign way back in 2009 is just how poor his political skills have been. You'd expect a guy who managed to win a major statewide election in a liberal state to have, if not master-level political skills, at least basic competence. You would not expect to see a guy whose campaign has been a comedy of errors, who so regularly shoots himself in the foot with his own words, or who seems so unable to articulate some kind of coherent message. You might not care for his politics, but you would at least expect Mitt Romney to be a good politician.

Until recently, we've seen nothing of the sort. But I really have to tip my hat to him as a lifelong fan of politics for his performance in the first debate. He and his advisors clearly prepared him thoroughly, went in with a tactical strategy (jump on every question like a coked-up squirrel before Obama can run with it), and executed a political strategy. That political strategy is more long term and forward thinking than anything we've seen from the Romney campaign since…ever, really. It's an amoral, cynical strategy, of course, but they finally came up with one and pulled it off.

The strategy I'm referring to, of course, is to lie copiously. I'm being serious and not giving him a backhanded compliment here. As a campaign and candidate trying to win the election, they made a rational choice that is working out perfectly for them thus far.

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It may not be enough, but no one can say he didn't make Obama sweat even in victory.

Fact-checkers went at Romney like a pack of starving dogs would greet a man wearing a suit made of ham.
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Romney's people calculated, of course, that A) most Americans don't give a shit about fact checkers, thanks to a heavy dose of confirmation bias, and B) far more people will read or hear what he said in the debate than any corrections, responses, or fact-checks that come in its wake. There is a clear first mover advantage in a campaign and they took advantage of it.
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Here is an example. Romney stated that Obama doubled the deficit upon taking office. This is, by any possible interpretation of the facts, false. It's just not true. Not even close. The most basic advantage is that he moved first – what did Twain say about a lie traveling around the world twice while the truth is still tying its shoes? – but it gets even better. In the wake of the debate, the Obama people have (justifiably) accused Romney of lying copiously about their candidate.

This is actually exactly what Romney was aiming for. It has two benefits for him. First, it makes Obama spend a week trying to refute things that he didn't adequately respond to during the debate. Second, it has made the Obama campaign repeatedly accuse him of lying.

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And that kind of accusation, the Beltway media are quick to remind us, is not what the American people want to hear. Can't Obama do anything but say "You're lying" to Romney? How uncivil. He must be ashamed of his own record. He's going negative. Etcetera. Can't you just picture the Davids (Brooks or Gergen) saying that as a panel of comatose "contributors" solemnly nod in agreement? Tsk tsk, Mr. President.

Maybe I'm giving him too much credit and this was all just an accident. Even blind squirrels find the occasional acorn. However, if this was intentional it was brilliant. I don't want to imply that Obama naively waltzed into a trap – certainly the campaign has to say "They claimed this about us, and it was a lie." You can't just sit there and take it. But the post-debate response played right into Romney's hands, because he and his campaign understand the bias toward mushy centrism and being Nice in our political journalism. Nothing sounds less civil than saying "You're a liar", so they figured out a simple way to make Obama say it a hundred times in a week.

Well played, Willard.

35 thoughts on “YOUR MOVE”

  • And what does this say, ultimately, about the American electorate? If this country puts a Mitt Romney in power, well, we're all gonna get what we deserve.

  • "Confirmation bias" is such a nice, polite way to put it. "Deluded fuck-heads who'd rather feel right than be right" comes closer.

    I refuse to embrace the smug belief that people today are "getting dumber" or that the "culture is getting worse"–as far as I can tell, we've always been as dumb as this, and the culture has always sucked this much. It's just that the media, having nothing else to report on, has decided that the story it wants to tell is that "we"–which is to say, "the liberals, if we're Fox News" or "the right, if we're MSNBC"–are getting dumber and more out-of-control every day.

    But I'm pretty sure we've always been this dumb. I find it hard to believe that the voters who installed, say, Warren J. Harding knew what the fuck they were doing, or why–they voted the way the party bosses told them to, and the party bosses told them to vote for whomever was paying them the most that month. Not exactly a step down from such high-mindedness, today.

    Or the Adams-Jefferson election, which was essentially a collection of outright, ad hominem lies from start to finish? For sheer, ballsy narratives of untruth–so divorced from reality that both candidates must have felt they'd fallen through the looking-glass, the current lies of Mitt, while undeniable, feel like pretty weak sauce.

    So, yes, when I see something like the debate, I see a Rorschach test (say it with me now: "Hurmm…"), and I say to myself, "Well, that was a meaningless experience–I wonder what the collective voices of What Happened will decide to tell us it meant." And so a bland performance by both candidates becomes a blowout by Romney because hey, that's a story that *feels* right to tell, and makes the Right feel smug, and the Left feel scared. That's the dynamic, and it's sickening.

    But is that any worse than the vast numbers of Americans who got their news primary from Hearst or Pulitzer owned papers? Not by much, I'd argue.

    Sean's right, in short–we'll probably get what we deserve. But we've pretty much always deserved shitty leaders, so there is no new thing under this sun.

  • The debate showed us the vast difference between a soft legal lecturer and streetwise scrapper of a trial lawyer. Where one would have easily eviscerated the squirrel before it even racked its first line.

    I thought the whole point of the Electoral College was to address the issues Sean raised. The Founding Fathers felt that something as important as voting should not be entrusted to the forebears of those who'd watch WWE.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    This is the first campaign where both sides run on complete lies. Republican perfected the act of hiding their true intentions (i.e. enrich the rich, fuck everyone else and destroy the well fare system). Obama suddenly is a populist working for us. Seriously, his pant are still at his ankles after fucking everyone except the rich for four long years.

    The campaign of lies started long ago. Yet, Romney's debate performance was indeed award meaning in inventing numbers and facts that have never happened. Obama's arrogance and dysfunctionality made Romney look like Martha Graham.

  • Watch the new NP TV documentary on these two guys…. most amazing. We may want to find two more candidates.

  • The Obama folks could have stayed out of the "you're lying!" trap by making Romney's debate performance just another flip in the flip flop parade he's been leading for the past twenty years.

    The start of every interview answer should have contained the term Etch-a-Sketch. All the political ads they've been running incorporating debate footage should have also contained flip-flops from the last campaign and from the nineties. More "what did you expect from this clown" than "he's a liar".

    There still hasn't been a really good flip-flopping ad, for some reason. They've got to come out with one at some point, right? They can't just keep calling him a liar for the next month.

  • I'm glad I missed the debates. I knew it would be absurd when Obama would have to defend his health care reform by pointing out how it was implemented by Romney(and dreamed up by conservatives) while the Romney would have to attack what basically amounted to his own plan. This tells you there is something wrong with our political system.

    On the issue of campaign rhetoric, I was surprised(why I don't know) to hear some people still insisting that Obama doesn't have the necessary experience to be president. So a governor of Texas and a governor of Massachusetts have the necessary experience to be president, but a guy who served four years in the Senate is woefully inexperienced. Okay. Of course if the scenario were reversed in a future election(e.g. Democrat ex-state governor vs. Republican congressman), suddenly the rhetoric would be the opposite: GOP Candidate X has experience in NATIONAL POLITICS! He's not just some state governor!

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Mitt did the only thing he's ever been good at – he lied. This should not have come as a newsflash for everyone.

    What is news, is the lack of shrieking, tearing at the toupee's and hair extensions, and rending of the polyester, by the right wing, as Mitt has gone to the left of Obama.
    What tax cuts for the rich?
    What closing of loop-holes for the middle class
    Abortion in the case or rape or incest, and the life of the mother.
    Strengthen Medicare and SS.
    Everyone assumed he'd be on a short leash with the Dominionist Christian Evangelical base.

    Instead, seeing how his campaign was floundering, they've got their gurantees that after Mitt had to move to the middle to win the election, as soon as the Election Day results were certified, he'd go back to being the "Very Conservative Mitt" – on steroids.

    Mitt stands for nothing, believes in nothing – he's a sociopath.

    And after he gets elected to the office he feels entitled to, who gives a shit what happens? He doesn't. Let everyone and everything go amok. Mitt got his. Let everyone else get theirs.

    And tonight, Paulie will take his turn lying about everything.

    PS – I hope you're feeling better, Ed.

  • The dumbest thing about political debates in the U.S.A. is the fact that most of the swing voters don't bother to watch them but when they see the result on TV the next day they will tend to side with the candidate that " won" the debate.
    I have only agreed with Ann Coulter on one thing and that was her statement that the American swing vote is comprised of blockheads.

  • A good flip flop ad might show Mitt's statements on an etch-a-sketch, give it a shake, than the next, contradictory, statement, repeat until the opinion of the moment is reached.

  • Good post, and good point, Ed. With that in mind Obama's strong suit is pointing out that Mittens has shifted yet again. "Where is he? What are his policy positions TODAY?" etc. Not the lies about his former positions, but the guessing how serious he is about his latest claims. So he WON'T overturn Roe v. Wade? How do we know? Will he lower taxes for the middle class or only for the "job creators?", and even if so, will he offset them with any deduction reductions? If so which ones? Is he "extremely conservative" or only middling? Which Mitt is the real Mitt? Is it worth the gamble to find out?

    I hope Biden pursues this course tonight, unless there's a still better one.

  • Color me unmoved. The polling we're seeing now is merely the fact that people who didn't know if they could support Mitt Romney being convinced that they can. I don't think the debates cost Obama any existing support, it just gave the "Republicans who think they're independents" crowd the succor they were looking for to get comfortable with their vote. It's nothing that wasn't expected, really. Right down to the lying.

  • Dookie, looking over that list I see more "Not true…" lines for Romney while there are more "true, but…" for Obama.

    Obama's were mostly estimation errors or errors because his opponent is constantly changing positions and he can't pin him down. Romney on the other hand is outright lying at every opportunity.

    The lies are hardly equal.

  • Andrew Laurence says:

    @Sean, I agree that if we put Romney in power, the people who voted for him will get what they deserve, but what about the rest of us? We'll also get what THEY deserve. A gigantic, unlubricated ass reaming.

  • Saying one thing today regardless of what one did or said previously seems to be par for the course for today's Republicans. Have you heard about the guy who says he will probably be firing people from his company if Obama wins? I happened to see him on Fox News yesterday. He said he wanted his workers to understand the implications of what would happen "if they vote for the 'wrong person.'" He also said that spending and debt are ruining the country and that the 47% who aren't paying income taxes want equality with the other 53% (what the everliving fuck). But here's the kicker: during the recent boom years he was overspending himself and his house ended up in foreclosure. He actually has the nerve to lecture his workers about spending to meet the cost of living when he himself was overspending on a luxury lifestyle he couldn't afford. What hypocrisy.

  • This only works when your political base can be reprogrammed as many times as you need in order to win an election.

  • Jeez, Dookie, nice job putting words into my mouth. What Obama said weren't lies.

    But you're just a troll and so there's no point arguing with you.

  • mel in oregon says:

    well obama got his ass beat, no question about that, & i of course didn't bother watching the debate. however, i did start to watch sat. night live, but turmed it off as it was so goddamn boring. they've come a long ways down since the days of chase & aykroid. but to pile on dookie for telling the truth? sure romney is the biggest liar since gw bush. but that doesn't excuse the sissy, obama. remember his "change we can believe in" or "the audacity of hope". nope, obama had the election won, but his over confidence caused him to be so damn lazy, he didn't even prepare properly, & his whole presidency has been about giving we the people's hard earned money to wallstreet. as far as the stupidity of the american public, well how the hell would you have got all the sad bastards in the 19th century, plus nixon, reagan & gw bush, if americans are & were not the stupidest people to ever exist on the planet?

  • Question…seriously…what is a troll in the context people on this site use it to refer to me? I probably should know that but, oddly, I don't.

  • I'm basically on board with James Kunstler's assessment of the candidates: "Two catamite hostages of a foul corporate oligarchy."

  • A troll is one who purposely and deliberately starts an argument in a manner which attacks others on a forum without in any way listening to the arguments in opposition. He will spark of such an argument via the use of ad hominem attacks with no substance or relevence to back them up as well as straw man arguments, which he uses to simply avoid addressing the essence of the issue.

    In this instance you claimed I said Obama's lies were better when I said no such thing but it was just an attempt to goad me into responding with the arrogant "love it" at the end.

    Potentially you could get me to respond all afternoon by misquoting me (or the president) and then laughing as I try to correct you. Sometimes I think its fun, so I go along with it, such as I am right now.

  • You brought up a really great point that doesn't get enough attention in the mainstream media. Romney's first name is actually Willard. Willard, for god's sake. Who is named Willard? Does anybody actually know a Willard in reality?
    Willard Scott doesn't count.

  • john driscoll says:

    as a loyal fan and regular reader of both Gin n Tacos and Mark Twain, i think the quote may be actually from Charles Haddon Spurgeon(1834-1892) but it does apply! another very famous Twain mis-quote or non-quote is the coldest winter i ever spent -San Francisco etc…thanks for the interesting posts and watch those damned speed traps!! i aint even lying

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