The facts vs. Mitt Romney
By Dana Milbank,
Mitt Romney is developing a Mirlande Wilson problem.
Wilson, for those not acquainted with the name, is the Maryland woman who claimed to have a winning lottery ticket worth $218 million. She had agreed to buy lottery tickets with money pooled from her co-workers at McDonald’s, but then she claimed that the winning ticket was one she bought separately. As the New York Daily News has documented, she has since claimed she’s not sure she won, she hasn’t checked the ticket, the ticket is at her home, the ticket is hidden at McDonald’s, the ticket is secreted away somewhere else, and now she can’t find it.
On Wednesday, she called a news conference, only for her lawyer to tell reporters to “go home.”
This was developing, by chance, on the same day I watched Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, give a speech in Washington. Like Wilson and her golden ticket, Romney was having some trouble getting out the facts.
“Good morning,” he began, though it was already afternoon. The accuracy of his statements went downhill from there.
He blamed President Obama for the “weakest economic recovery since the Great Depression.”
He said he would save “about $100 billion a year” eliminating Obamacare.
He accused the president of “taking a series of steps that end Medicare as we know it.” And he claimed Obama had created an “unaccountable panel, with the power to prevent Medicare from providing certain treatments.”
Incorrect, wrong, false and fictitious. And that was just a sample from one Romney speech on one day.
Fortunately, fact-checkers in the press, such as The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler and the Tampa Bay Times’ PolitiFact, have been diligently pointing out Romney’s whoppers. Unfortunately, this has had little, if any, effect on his prodigious output.
That candidates don’t tell the truth is hardly news. Voters already know there are lies, damn lies, and politics. And certainly, Romney has abundant company in his mendacity. Just this week, Obama dared the Supreme Court to overturn his health-care reforms, saying it “would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.” In fact, the law passed by the barest of margins — and, as a former constitutional law instructor such as Obama surely knows, the Supreme Court routinely strikes down laws passed by Congress.
But the fact that the fibs are routine doesn’t make them less insidious. Public support for the war in Iraq was no doubt aided by the perception among a majority of Americans that Saddam Hussein was behind the Sept. 11 attacks — a frequent insinuation of the Bush administration.
Romney’s fast-and-loose routine with the facts — deployed equally against his Republican rivals and Obama — is particularly disappointing because it is unnecessary. He has a powerful case to make against Obama without the embellishment: The economic recovery is maddeningly slow without his claiming that it’s the weakest since the Great Depression (the 1980 and 2001 recoveries were slower) or alleging that “an article in the Wall Street Journal” reported that “this has been the slowest economic recovery including that of the Great Depression” (the article, an op-ed, said the recovery is slower than “most”).
PolitiFact has awarded Romney its “Pants on Fire” or “False” ratings for 32 claims. Among them are these: that Obama “didn’t even mention the deficit or debt” in his State of the Union address, that “our Navy is smaller than it’s been since 1917,” that Obama “never worked in the private sector,” that Obama “gave” the automakers “to the UAW,” and that “we’re only inches away from no longer being a free economy.”
Wednesday’s speech alone had more than a dozen distortions, including allegations that: Obama “has failed to even pass a budget” (Congress passes budget resolutions, which the president doesn’t sign); Obama created a panel empowered to deny treatments under Medicare (the board can only make recommendations, and only if Congress fails to find Medicare cuts), Obama “has added regulations at a staggering rate” (the Business Roundtable just said it “lauded” the administration’s attempt at regulatory reform).
No fewer than three Romney claims in that one speech merited PolitiFact’s “Pants on Fire” rating: that Obama led “a government takeover of health care,” has been “apologizing for America abroad” and is ending “Medicare as we know it.” Romney’s assertions that Obama “is the only president to ever cut $500 billion from Medicare” and that eliminating Obamacare saves “about $100 billion” were rated false.
That Romney resorts to such gratuitous falsehoods discredits his leadership more than his opponent’s.