September 14, 2012
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In politics, as in war, the truth is often a casualty. But in the presidential election of 2012, the truth is targeted for assassination, placed on a hit list by the Romney-Ryan campaign and the Republican right.
There's nothing random about it. That was made clear on Friday by Rep. Paul Ryan, Wis., the Republican vice presidential candidate, in a speech delivered to the Values Voter Summit, the annual gathering convened by the FRC Action, the political arm of the Family Research Council, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.
When, earlier in the week, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney responded to the slaying of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi, Libya, by falsely accusing President Barack Obama of making common cause with the enemy, the liberal pundit class predicted those remarks had just cost Romney the election. Mark, missed. Shark, jumped. Choose your metaphor.
In a prepared statement released on September 11, the night of the assault on the consulate in Libya, Romney said: "I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."
The administration, of course, made no such statement in response to the attack, and Romney's release appears to be an attempt to make it seem that a statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo hours before the attacks was the administration's response. The embassy's statement condemned the crude video scripted by Steve Klein, a right-wing Christian provocateur, that has inflamed anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world with its defaming of the prophet Muhammad.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement
just minutes after Romney sent his his bold untruth to the New York Times
. "Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet," reads Clinton's statement. "The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."
Hard to find any sympathy for the attackers, as Romney alleged, in Clinton's statement. I confess to having been among those who saw Romney's comments as, if not game-ender, an unforced error.
But the at a press conference the next day, Romney doubled down on that lie -- and others regarding this week's assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya and the embassy in Egypt. The falsehood was echoed in a number of speeches at this weekend's right-wing confab, usually coupled with the charge that Obama is treating Israel shabbily. And that repetition amounts to a strategy.
In fact, judging from the smirk on Romney's face
as he exited his press-conference podium (captured by AP photographer Charles Dharapak), it would seem that the Romney campaign counts the slaying of U.S. officials in Middle East as a boon to its fortunes.
Mendacity, Meet Pomposity
"All of us are watching events closely, but we know who America is dealing with in these attacks," Paul Ryan told the largely evangelical audience at the Values Voter Summit. "They are extremists who operate by violence and intimidation. And the least equivocation or mixed signal only makes them bolder. Look across that region today, and what do we see? The slaughter of brave dissidents in Syria; mobs storming American embassies and consulates; Iran four years closer to gaining a nuclear weapon; Israel, our best ally in the region, treated with indifference bordering on contempt by the Obama administration."
If Ryan's remarks sound mild compared to those made by Romney earlier in the week, that's because his speech was teed up by the poisonous rhetoric of former Reagan administration official William Bennett, who also made much of the fact that Ryan was his former intern.
But once he dispensed with the adorable image of Paul Ryan making Xeroxes and running errands for his high-rolling boss, Bennett drew the sum total of his mendacious pomposity to accuse the administration of deeds that would almost amount to treason, were they remotely true. Secretary of State Clinton, he said, "wonder[ed] aloud whether...our own constitutional freedoms go just a bit too far."
That would indeed be a horrible thing -- if it had ever happened. But it hadn't.
Bennett went on: "A Muslim mob brutalizes and murders an American ambassador, a representative of the United States of America, to disgrace him, and to disgrace us. They would murder us, and brutalize us, too -- all of us. And our government reacts by shuddering and shaking, and wondering that the consequences of our First Amendment, that blames an inconsequential fool of a filmmaker with a paltry influence, for the venom unleashed in another part of the world. God help us. God help us."
Bennett read Romney's statement verbatim, and went on to fault the media for the fallout Romney suffered. "Most of the press jumped in on Romney to kill this truth in the womb -- something it is well-practiced at," Bennett said.
Romney running-mate Paul Ryan did not take issue with a single bit of Bennett's introduction.
Lying to Win Obama-Haters
If the voters for whom Romney is vying were people remotely like you and me, the political exploitation of the murder of American officials and Navy SEALs, even before their families had a chance to bury them, would be a highly alienating act. Ditto for the rhetorical assault on a sitting president of the U.S., falsely painted as anti-American. But they're not like you and me.
They've been convinced that they belong to a culture apart from the one that you and I inhabit, which they see as exemplified by an African-American man who alternately can't do anything right or is a sinister genius. So long as what you tell them corroborates that view of Obama, they'll believe it. After all, they've been told, the media are all in the tank for the president, anyway. So fact-check all you want, media dudes; the Obama-haters know you're lying.
Romney's game is not to win his margin from among the mere 4 percent of the U.S. electorate who have yet to make up their minds about which presidential candidate they'll vote for in November. His game is to turn out every single vote from every single person who would never vote for Barack Obama in 100 years.
But those people who are not naturally inclined to love Mitt Romney, either, given his pro-choice past and Mormon present. And so he lies, conjuring a false narrative he hopes they'll find believable, based on their suspicion of the black, urban, Democratic president. And now his allies are piling on. (In his introduction of Ryan, Bennett groused that a "others" would never be "forgiven" for a poverty rate as high as the current one.)
The Jimmy Carter Meme
But for Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minn., the Romney whopper about the Middle East unrest just wasn't big enough. Bachmann, you'll recall, has been seeking to claim the franchise on Tea Party/Evangelical/Republican Islamophobia. Not willing to cede that ground to her party's presidential candidate, Bachmann one-upped Romney, accusing Obama of courting the Muslim Brotherhood and seeking to implement "Muslim speech codes" in the United States.
"President Obama went on his first foreign policy trip to Cairo," Bachmann said, "and he spurned our long-time ally, Egyptian President Mubarak, by inviting the very violent Muslim Brotherhood, who, at that time was outlawed in Egypt, to attend his speech, and gave them front-row tickets to his speech in Cairo when Mubarak’s policy was to keep the destructive Muslim Brotherhood at arm’s length."
Bachmann used the current Middle East crisis to bolster a line of rhetoric that first appeared in the remarks of several speakers at the Republican National Convention, comparing Obama to former President Jimmy Carter.
Look for Republicans to continue to paint the Benghazi attack as the equivalent of the taking of U.S. hostages in Tehran in 1979.
And speaking of Iran, it was mentioned in both Bachmann's and Ryan's speeches as posing an existential threat to Israel, whose "eternal capital," both said, is Jerusalem.
When Murder of U.S. Officials is Funny
Not all was gloom, doom and Armageddon, though. Sen. Jim DeMint, don of the Senate's Tea Party cabal, found a chuckle in the week's mayhem.
"You know, we’ve had a lot of bad news this week," DeMint said. "On my way over I was reading another story about a distant place where thugs had put 400,000 children out in the streets. Then I realized that was the story about the Chicago teachers’ strike."
Perhaps that brought a smile to Mitt Romney's face.