The Weirdest Reason Yet to Vote for Obama: In Defense of 'Truth'


There is a powerful meme afoot within some corners of the political press claiming that a vote for the incumbent president of the United States is an important victory against the weasely purveyors of "post-truth." Here are five recent samples from the genre.

David Corn, Mother Jones:

Election Day will say whether Romney has indeed brought about the complete triumph of post-truth politics. In a Seinfeld episode, George Costanza famously observed, "Remember, it's not a lie if you believe it." In Romneyworld, that line might be modified: It's not a lie if it works. As significant as Tuesday's outcome will be for this much-divided nation in determining future policies regarding the economy, present and future wars, abortion rights, climate change, the social safety net, and much more, it will also provide an answer to a critical bottom-line question: In politics, does reality matter?

Greg Sargent, Washington Post:

Within 48 hours, we may find out whether a "post truth" candidate can be elected president.

If there is one constant to this campaign, it's that Romney has startled many observers by operating from the basic premise that there is literally no set of boundaries he needs to follow when it comes to the veracity of his assertions, the transparency he provides about his fundraising and finances, and the specificity of his plans for the country. […]

But the key to this is how elemental it has long been to his campaign. Romney's entire bid for the presidency rests on a foundation of evasions and lies.

Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times:

An equally significant development has been the strategic decision of the Romney campaign to set new standards in the use of untrue campaign claims.

The ultimate test case of whether it is possible to lie and get away with it will be the outcome in Ohio, where Romney is running ads in open disregard of the truth. […]

If Romney wins Ohio, every campaign in future elections is going to give much more serious consideration to lying and to open defiance of media rebuttals as a legitimate campaign expedient.

Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic:

Romney's distortions and evasions have been so frequent, and so central to his campaign, that the blogger Steve Benen created a weekly feature on them called "Chronicling Mitt's Mendacity." Last week, in its 41st edition, included 33 separate items. And it's not just liberal writers who have noticed. Paul Ryan's infamous convention speech was something of a watershed moment: Confronted with multiple and obvious distortions, the media reacted by reporting that Ryan was not telling the truth. […]

The message couldn't be clearer. Romney and his advisers don't care about consistency, transparency, or candor. And they think they can get away with it. Are they right? We'll find out on Tuesday night.

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Washington Post:

Election 2012…was the year of "post-truth." For the first time, the idea emerged that political lying simply didn't matter. This is a profound theological issue.

One political party, the Republican Party, put out statements and ads that were lies, that is, proven to be factually incorrect, and simply said it didn't matter. And they did it over and over again, while denigrating "fact-checking." The Romney campaign declined, as one surrogate said, to let their campaign "be dictated by fact-checkers."

A false equivalence emerged, where media outlets  often chose not to pursue the policy of repeated, systematic and deliberate lying by the Romney campaign and chose instead to focus on 'they both do it.'

Rev. William E. Alberts, Counterpunch:

This cynical pretense of caring for the hurricane victims is merely a continuation of lies that have paved Mitt Romney's presidential campaign from the beginning. […]

The innate, natural, humble, innocent honesty of children prepares them to know whether or not another child, or adult, is telling the truth.  The ones who tell them the truth become good friends.  Those who lie to them are never to be trusted.  The ways of a child are wise indeed, and to be reclaimed and emulated by us adults

Trust is a matter of truth.  American democracy desperately needs a new motto: In Truth We Trust.

There is one main problem with this line of argument, and he lives in the White House. For details on President Barack Obama's lying, click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, for starters.

So how does the Mitt's-lies-must-be-repudiated chorus deal with the man who has actually wielded power these past 46 months? Get ready for some comedy after the jump:

Sargent, Brooks Thistlethwaite, and Albert simply turn the other cheek and don't consider the president's record at all. Cohn at least offers a few presidential examples, but wraps them up in a larger-truths bow:

All politicians say misleading things. And that includes President Obama. He never misses a chance to quote the headline on Romney's infamous op-ed, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," even though Romney didn't write the headline and Obama himself ended up putting the companies through bankruptcy. Obama's ads have attacked Romney for outsourcing at Bain, even though much of the outsourcing took place after Romney left—and the long-term, macroeconomic effects of outsourcing are a matter of legitimate debate. Obama routinely attacks Romney for threatening to leave seniors at the mercy of insurance companies, even though Obama's own health care plan relies heavily on private insurance to provide coverage to non-elderly Americans.

But even when Obama's claims have gotten specific facts wrong, they have told a larger story about policy that's true.

David Corn at least has the decency to add to this long-running assertion some actual numbers, which he then proceeds to waterboard:

Of the 202 Romney statements PolitiFact has evaluated, 32 percent were judged mostly false and false, with pants-on-fire statements accounting for an additional 9 percent. Of the 452 Obama assertions reviewed, 26 percent fell into the false or mostly false category, and 2 percent were pants-on-fire untruths.

The numbers tell only part of the story. This is what's most intriguing: Only three of Obama's seven POF fibs targeted Romney. […]

Romney's stats reveal a different a trend: All but one of his 19 pants-on-fire statements were aimed at Obama or his policies. And they were all supersized fibs

Note that Obama is getting extra credit here for lying about other stuff besides his political opponent. But isn't that, um, worse? Like, if you were getting all sanctimonious about politician-lies, wouldn't you reserve your strongest venom for lying about actual policies being enacted, rather than distorting a competitor's agenda on the campaign trail? And is a single-digit percentage-point spread on a decidedly unscientific sample compiled by a mainstream media outlet really the hook you want to hang this particular hat on?

The "post-truth" commentariat, in my experience (which is not exhaustive), is using assertion and anecdote to make a heavily political accusation during the heart of election season. Considering how central they claim post-truthiness to be both in their own moral calculations and in their portrayal of the Romney campaign, you would think (or at least hope) that they'd bring a little more evidence to the fact-party.