The new and misleading ad about ‘Mitt Romney’s America’

at 06:00 AM ET, 11/03/2011

“Unregulated. Isolated. Decimated. Relocated. Privatized. Slashed. Repealed. Mitt Romney’s America is not our America.”

— closing words of a new ad by the pro-Obama group, Priorities USA Action

 Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama group, on Wednesday released a new Web ad that, perhaps unconsciously, evokes memories of the famous speech by the late senator Edward Kennedy, “Robert Bork’s America.” At least one analyst has argued that Kennedy’s attack on Bork launched the “beginning of the end of civil discourse in politics.”

 If this ad is any indication, we’re in for a mean election year.

 Our favorite moment is when Romney utters his somewhat odd defense of companies — “Corporations are people. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people” — and quick images of a suit pocketing money and a corporate jet flash by. Then Romney says, “Where do you think it goes?” and the ad focuses in on the now-famous photograph from a Bain Capital brochure of a young Romney with his pockets stuffed with cash.

 In fact, the ad is so over the top, both in its images and its accusations, that it is hard to believe it would persuade anyone but hard-core partisans. That may indeed be the point — an effort to energize demoralized Obama supporters for the tough fight ahead.

 But that does not mean we can hold it to a lesser standard of accuracy.

 

The Facts

 This ad is the commercial equivalent of the kitchen sink, so we will not go into detail but instead will quickly point out some of its more glaring inaccuracies or out-of-context moments. The group’s Web site provides a helpful list of supposed evidence for the ad, but much of that is suspect, too.

“Social Security Privatized.” As we have noted before, in a Three Pinocchio ruling, Romney expressed some interest in private investment accounts as part of Social Security in the 2008 presidential campaign. But he wrote in his recent book that in the wake of the 2008 stock crash, he no longer thought such accounts were appropriate.

Instead, Romney now favors something along the lines of what then-Vice President Al Gore proposed in 2000 — investment accounts in addition to Social Security. The organization’s Web site cites an article that unaccountably does not mention this shift in position. (An official with the group argues that Romney “endorsed privatization of Social Security for years” and his current position is just politically convenient.)

“Medicare dismantled.” This incorrect claim, for which we have previously awarded as many as Four Pinocchios,  is based on Romney’s support for the House Republican budget plan, which would alter the financing of Medicare for people currently under the age of 55. Certainly, serious questions have been raised about what would happen to the cost of premiums under the GOP plan, but it is a stretch to say the system would be “dismantled.” Indeed, it would remain the same for elderly Americans — presumably the main target of this message.

 “American Jobs Relocated.” This eye-popping claim is based on some pretty flimsy evidence. First, the group points to Romney’s 2004 veto of a bill that would have prohibited state contracts with companies that use overseas employees for the work.  Romney, then governor of Massachusetts, argued at the time that the bill did not protect the state’s jobs but might actually cost money. Proponents of the bill had touted a union study claiming that $7 million was spent on contract work overseas — but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to Massachusetts’s $24 billion budget at the time.

Second, the group cites a 2004 quote from one Romney economic adviser that — while meeting the test of basic economic theories on the impact of free trade — was phrased in a politically inartful way. Greg Mankiw, a Harvard University professor, argued that while some jobs are lost to outsourcing, on balance, the practice, like all trade, is connected to overall increased employment and investment. In any case, it is a stretch to suggest this old quote reflects Romney’s current position.

We just don’t see how this group can take these two relatively minor items and then assert that Romney, as president, would seek to ship jobs overseas and indeed, be “dangerous for American workers.”

 “Main Street Isolated.” The ad tries to undercut Romney’s portrayal of himself as a job-creator by focusing on one case where a business his company invested in had to lay off workers. As we have written, the precise numbers may be impossible to obtain, but over time it appears that Romney, in his business practices, helped create more jobs than were lost.

The official at Priorities USA claims that officials at Bain Capital, where Romney worked, often sought to eliminate duplicative jobs when they combined similar companies in an effort to find greater efficiencies. Okay, but achieving corporate efficiencies is not necessarily considered a bad economic practice.

 The ad also twists out of context a recent statement by Romney regarding foreclosures: “Don’t try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom.” The ad makes it appear as if Romney is being heartless, but here is his full quote, which was made to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

 

“As to what to do for the housing industry specifically. Are there things you can do to encourage housing? One is, don't try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom. Allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up. Let it turn around and come back up. The Obama administration has slow walked the foreclosure processes that have long existed, and as a result we still have a foreclosure overhang. Number two, the credit given to first time homebuyers was insufficient and inadequate to turn around the housing market. I think it was an ineffective idea. It was a little bit like the cash-for-clunkers program, throwing government money at something which was not market oriented, did not staunch the decline in home values any more than it encouraged the auto industry to take off. I think the idea of helping people refinance homes to stay in them is one that’s worth further consideration but I’m not signing on until I find out who’s going to pay and whose going to get bailed out and that’s not something which we know all the answers to.”

The official for the group insists the ad does not take his quote out of context. We can let readers judge for themselves, but our colleagues at PolitiFact faulted another Democratic ad for similar selective editing of the same quote.

The ad also selectively chops Romney’s answer to a question on whether he was “a member” of the tea party. This was his full response, in which he danced around the question, presumably to avoid being tagged as a member without offending the group:

 I don't think you carry cards in the Tea Party. I believe in a lot of what the Tea Party believes in. The Tea Party believes that government's too big, taxing too much, and that we ought to get -- get to the work of getting Americans to work. So I put together a plan with a whole series of points of how we can get America's economy going again. Tea Party people like that. So if the Tea Party is for keeping government small and spending down, and helping us create jobs, then, hey, I'm for the Tea Party.

However, the ad accurately quotes Romney — back in the 2008 campaign — as saying he wanted to appoint conservative justices to the Supreme Court.

The image of a person’s health insurance being denied because of a preexisting condition is also correct. Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom confirmed Wednesday that Romney favors full repeal of the health-care law, including that politically-popular provision.

The Pinocchio Test

Despite a few flashes of truth in the ad, we don’t think anything so broadly misleading should be awarded anything less than Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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