It’s been three weeks since Mitt Romney first took fire for asserting that the Obama administration “gutted” work requirements in welfare. When the first ad was released, PolitiFact took the lead in debunking its claim that under Obama’s plan, “they just send you your welfare check,” giving it the highest rating of “Pants on Fire.” FactCheck.org followed suit, and the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler offered a similar denunciation, giving the ad “four Pinnochios.”
But this didn’t deter the Romney campaign. The following week, they released another ad using a similar message. Independent observers again hit Romney’s dishonesty, and a key Republican architect of welfare reform said that “there’s no plausible scenario under which [the change] really constitutes a serious attack on welfare reform.”
If anything, Obama has strengthened the requirements; in his book “The New New Deal,” Michael Grunwald describes a $1.3 billion program that helped states give work to more welfare recipients. It was lauded by governors on both sides, but was eventually killed by congressional Republicans eager to land a blow on Obama.
It’s almost certain that Team Romney has heard these complaints, and just doesn’t care about them. Not only has Romney made this a key part of his stump speech — promising to “return work to welfare”— but this morning, he released yet another ad making the same claims:
Unlike the other spots, this one cites an independent source — the editorial page of the Richmond-Times Dispatch. In an editorial released last week, the Dispatch agreed with Romney’s assessment of the welfare changes, saying: “if you want to get more people to work, you don’t loosen the requirements — you tighten them.”
The problem with this editorial, and Romney’s citation of it, is that Politifact Virginia — a joint venture of Politifact and the Times Dispatch itself — debunked this claim as false at the beginning of the month, when it was made by Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell:
McDonnell said the Obama administration is “unwinding” welfare-to-work requirements.
But a new Obama program does not end welfare-to-work mandates. To the contrary, it strengthens the requirements by granting waivers to states seeking to make the work requirements more successful. The waivers would be granted to pilot programs that are individually evaluated; HHS is not proposing a blanket national change to welfare law.
We rate McDonnell’s statement False.
The verdict from fact-checkers, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, is unanimous: Romney is outright lying about the Obama administration’s change to welfare. Why would Romney continue use the claim if it’s been proven false?
The first answer has everything to do with the press. Reporters aren’t equipped to deal with constant dishonesty, and one-off fact checks aren’t enough to stop a lie from gaining currency. The Romney campaign is capitalizing on both facts to push a false narrative and embed it in the political conversation. So far, judging from the non-response of most reporters, it’s working.
The second answer is much more cynical. As Greg noted when the first ad debuted, this is a clear attempt to resurrect the politics of resentment. It’s no accident that Romney uses this line when speaking to groups of working-class white voters; it’s meant to conjure images of “young bucks” and “welfare queens” who abuse the system and take from more “productive” Americans. Indeed, when you consider the extent to which this attack came out of the blue — no one was talking about welfare before Romney began this assault — and the fact that Romney’s White House bid depends on record levels of support from white voters, it’s hard not to see it as a blatant attempt to pander to the racial anxieties of downscale whites.
Which is why it’s worth pointing out this lie whenever it surfaces. Far more so than Joe Biden — who made an off-the-cuff remark — Romney is playing a deliberate game of racial division, trying to harm Obama’s standing with whites by connecting him to long-circulating stereotypes about African Americans. It’s an ugly move that should be condemned in the harshest terms possible.