For at least the last couple of decades, the Republican Party has been anti-modern, but Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president, is modern, even post-modern. I don’t mean that as a compliment. The man is a serial liar in a society that increasingly tolerates lying and cheating.
Maybe Romney and his lying-mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, are on to something about the American character these days. One example of that is the ludicrous belief held by many that President Obama is “the other,” not born in the United States and a secret Muslim.
“Factual truth is no longer as relevant as it used to be,” says modern communications wizard Henry Jenkins of the University of Southern California. “Modern media consumers will buy anything that ‘rings true’ to them.”
So without going through the whole list of Romney-Ryan whoppers, I will quote Joe Conason, an Obama-lover writing on Truthdig.com. He sees a “deep well of dishonesty” in the Romney campaign. Conason’s most interesting thought after he shows Obamacare and Romneycare in Massachusetts are the same thing, verified by various fact-checkers, is this:
“He … knows that when he claims economic growth alone will erase the deficit, without raising taxes, he is inventing impossible numbers. As The National Memo’s Howard Hill demonstrated, the assumptions behind his claims are ridiculous. For the numbers to work, he would have to create not 12 million jobs, as he promised to do by 2016, but 162 million — more than the total current U.S. workforce. Or else the jobs created would have to pay more than $443,000 per year on average.”
So who cares? Not the increasing number of Americans who are lying and cheating — or are just plain stupid. One of the more disturbing stories of this last summer was one by Richard Perez-Pena of The New York Times about cheating in the country’s best high schools and colleges, including Stuyvesant High School, Harvard University and the Air Force Academy.
“There have always been struggling students who cheat to survive,” Donald McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University Business School, told Perez-Pena. “But more and more there are students at the top who cheat to thrive.”
A Duquesne University study of student cheating came to the same conclusion, citing Internet access as providing the tools to make cheating easier than it was in the old days. In a survey by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, 60 percent of high school students admitted cheating during the past year.
That 60 percent, according to studies of corporate human resources officers, is the same as the percentage of job applicants who falsify resumes.
At Harvard, Howard Gardner, who has studied academic and professional integrity, said, “Ethical muscles have atrophied.” Perez-Pena concluded after his university interviews: “In part (this is) because of a culture that exalts success, however it is attained.”
That is what the former governor of Massachusetts running for president and his lying-mate have brought to the campaign. They obviously think many, many voters just don’t give a damn if they repeat their lies time after time, even after they have been caught at it.
The president is no saint; he has exaggerated the impact of the Bush tax cuts on the budget deficit. Like any politician or salesman, he fabricates only when necessary. Another Obama fan, Richard Cohen of The Washington Post, argues that there is no real mystery about this president. No “other” he, unless you judge him only by his race: “Some of us, in fact, think we know the real Barack Obama. He is a man of the center — or maybe a wee to the left of it — who is prudent in all things, dotes on his children and is loving to his wife. His most radical program is called Obamacare, and if it has sent us all down the road to socialism, we have somehow become stuck in a suburban cul de sac.”
I would add he has been a good president in difficult circumstances.
Conason, in his analysis, argues that much of what is happening is due to the reluctance of most big media to use the word “liar.” I’ve been there, and I agree with that. “What Romney has done presents a fundamental challenge to the American political media,” says Conason. “Will news outlets hold him accountable for baldly misleading voters? Are they capable of confronting his continuous mendacity with basic facts? Some have made a beginning, while others have scarcely tried. If that isn’t their responsibility, then they no longer have any purpose at all.”
Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.