The acceptance speeches by Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney at the GOP convention were only slightly more grounded in reality than Clint Eastwood’s conversation with an empty chair. Ryan is infamous for his pack of lies, from the attempt to blame President Obama for the closing of a Wisconsin GM factory that began shutting down during the Bush presidency, to the fantasy that Ryan’s austerity agenda is about something other than gutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in order to enrich Wall Street speculators and the insurance industry.
Romney was just as bad, with a rambling rumination on how much he wished Barack Obama’s presidency had “succeeded.” Coming from the man who tried to scuttle Obama’s successful interventions to save GM and Chrysler, and who spent the rest of the president’s first term organizing a campaign to displace him, Romney’s line wasn’t remotely believable.
The Republican Party is not fretting about fact-checkers. Far from it; the GOP has now fully entered the netherworld of post-truth politics, from the wholesale denial of climate change to spreading fairy tales about Obama’s welfare policy (see Betsy Reed, page 4). Romney and Ryan know they’re going to need big lies to win. That’s pathetic, but it could work—especially if the mainstream media continue to evade their basic duty to call the GOP on these whoppers (see Eric Alterman, page 10).
This poses a real challenge for the Democrats, who can’t get bogged down in the minutiae of every Republican lie—there are just too many of them. Democrats must instead go big, and tackle the GOP agenda, which at its core is dedicated to a massive redistribution of power and income toward the 1 percent, who already have more of both than at any time in the past eighty years. The central lie of the Republican campaign is the claim that the wealthiest country in the world is so broke it cannot fund school lunch programs or Pell Grants, but not so broke that it would ask billionaires to pay taxes or put the Pentagon on a diet. The best way to unmask the GOP is not with charts and graphs. It must be done with economic straight talk. We must explain why Romney and Ryan are lying—because their agenda is so unpopular (as well as unworkable and dangerous to the nation’s recovery). And we must offer a vision for job creation, infrastructure investment and an uncompromising defense of the social safety net.
Democrats should not stop there. On the question of campaign finance reform, they’ve made a good start. Obama has joined more than 100 Congressional Democrats in suggesting a constitutional amendment to address the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. These and other Court decisions let corporations and wealthy individuals buy elections with campaign spending that follows no rules and respects no demand for transparency. Obama and the Democrats are hardly pure when it comes to campaign money. But the distinction between the GOP, which has embraced Citizens United, and a Democratic president who would overturn it could not be more stark.
The reason Republicans think they can get away with lying is that they’re sure they’ll have enough money—and enough Super PAC support—to outspend the truth. That’s a scary prospect, best countered with a blunt, unapologetic condemnation of the influence peddlers—and those like Paul Ryan who are most willing to be bought. Franklin Roosevelt had to deal with a similar circumstance in 1936 when, after a difficult first term, he sought re-election as the champion of the great mass of working and worried Americans. Facing the forces of the Wall Street speculators, big bankers and their amen corner in the media who were arrayed against him, FDR didn’t flinch: “We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob,” he declared. Barack Obama should be equally blunt about the need to chase the money- changers from the political temple. And, unlike Paul Ryan, he’d be telling the truth.