Today’s New York Times had a surprisingly positive piece on the latest ad from Crossroads GPS, the Republican super PAC which will inaugurate the summer campaign season with a $25 million television blitz in ten swing staates. The ad, developed by Willie Horton producer Larry McCarthy, focuses on the hardships of ordinary Americans, in an attempt to put the full weight of the economy on President Obama. The Times says that it is “deeply researched,” “delicately worded,” and “low key”–designed to capture and communicate the frustrations of independent voters, without making explicit attacks on a president that remains well-liked by most people. You can the video for yourself at this link.
The Times is right to highlight the mood of the advertisement; it shies away from the intensely negative rhetoric of actual Republicans, in favor of a downtempo — even mournful — look at a regular family. Its central character is a woman who supported Obama in 2008, but is disappointed with the direction of his administration. The ad builds on Romney’s complete focus on the economy, where everyone — including Democratic groups like women and young people — has been hurt by the economic stagnation. It’s an effective piece of political advertising.
Where the Times goes wrong, however, is in describing this as “deeply researched.” As befitting a Karl Rove outfit, the claims in the ad are either misleading, or outright falsehoods. Citing a Reuters story from 2009 on conservative efforts to sink the bill, Crossroads GPS insinuates that the stimulus was a failure, despite wide consensus that the bill kept United States out of a depression, and significantly improved prospects for recovery.
The ad continues in this vein, blaming high insurance premiums on the Affordable Care Act — when the cited article says otherwise — and blaming Obama for the increase in debt, despite the fact that under his administration, government spending has risen at a slower pace than any time in the last 60 years. Obama is one of the most miserly presidents in recent history, especially compared to George W. Bush, who grew spending at more than 7 percent per year; double the rate of Bill Clinton, and more than five times the rate of Obama. The simple fact is that the accumulation of debt over the last three-and-a-half years has more to do with the Great Recession than it does with any of Obama’s spending priorities. The spending “binge” of Republican rhetoric is a myth.
As with Romney’s rhetoric, the Crossroads attack on Obama is built on a false narrative where Republican policies weren’t responsible for the economic crisis (which happened ex nihilo), and Democrats hold sole responsibility for the recovery.
Of course, I don’t expect a Republican super PAC to do anything different; they’re in it to win it. But I am surprised the Times would run such a positive piece on the ad and its creators, and forgo any attempt to evaluate the claims made by Crossroads GPS. Unfortunately, when it comes to coverage of Mitt Romney’s campaign for the White House, this is par for th course. The Republican nominee is running on a series of unsubstantiated or easily debunked claims: that he is responsible for 100,000 new jobs at Bain, that there has been net job loss under Obama’s policies, that the stimulus failed, that his policies would reduce the debt (the opposite is true), and that the Affordable Care Act was a “government takeover” of health care.
It’s not hard to find an independent evaluation of each claim, and yet, it’s rare that news outlets challenge the Romney campaign — or Republicans in general — on any it. The GOP is running the most mendacious presidential campaign in recent memory, and the collective response has been a shrug.