Hyperbole and distortion are a constant in presidential campaign politicking, especially in presidential conventions. Yet candidates' claims against their opponents have traditionally been rooted to some peg of reality, some scent of truthfulness. Alas, that was not the case in the just-concluded Republican convention. Truth there took a virtually unprecedented beating.
Rep. Paul Ryan, the budget committee chief who authored many of the hurdles used to thwart President Obama efforts to promote stronger economic recovery, led the parade of falsehoods in the run-up to Mitt Romney's curtain-closer. Ryan falsely claimed that Obama rejected the report of the bipartisan debt commission panel that he created, when it was Ryan's own opposition that stalled the Simpson-Bowles commission's recommendations.
It was Ryan and other House Republican leaders, not Obama, who drove the artificial debt ceiling crisis last year, which for months prevented a debt ceiling increase to pay for spending that Congress had already approved. That contrived fiasco, which led to an unprecedented downgrading of the nation's credit rating, was the doing of the Republicans' tea party wing, not Obama.
Ryan's charge that taxpayers got nothing from Obama's stimulus is also blatantly false: more than a third of that money went to middle-class cuts. A similar chunk, spread over three years, went to state governments - Tennessee took $5 billion -- to keep their budgets, services and employee base from falling off the fiscal cliff until reverberations from the 2007-09 Great Recession calmed.
The list of Ryan's flagrant falsehoods about Obama's actions and policies - on Medicare, health reform, and the Wisconsin auto plant that was put on the chopping block before Obama was elected - set the stage for Romney's similarly false litany.
Romney wrongly, if predictably, attributed the vast hemorrhage of job losses that began under George W. Bush's tenure to Obama's ledger. Those losses were huge: 8.8 million jobs fell like rain in the Great Recession - more than the combined number of jobs lost in the previous four recessions - as the global economy teetered on the brink of a calamitous world depression.
An average of 712,000 U.S. jobs was lost each month from October 2008 through March 2009. Obama became president in January 2009, at the midpoint of that 6-month string, the worst since 1945. Though the trough of the Great Recession didn't end until January 2010, it was the corrective steps Obama and the Federal Reserve put in place - the banking bailout and the stimulus package - that finally stopped those gross job losses, and then began reversing them.
Since then, job gains have risen every month. It's easy now for Romney to say that the gains haven't been fast enough, and that he would add 12 million more jobs in the next four years. But in fact, economists now widely expect 12 million new jobs over the next four years, regardless of who wins.
Romney, of course, can't expect to beat Obama by being accurate about Obama's success in arresting and reversing the economic plunge he inherited; or his doubling down on border and immigration control; or his demonstrable support for the military and widely acclaimed foreign policies.
So he is fabricating falsehoods about Obama. He said, falsely, Thursday night that Obama began his presidency with "an apology tour," that half of recent college grads under 25 are unemployed, that Obama would raise taxes on the middle class, that he would cut Medicare and military spending and gut welfare work rules, and that under his administration gasoline prices had doubled.
These are either totally false or wildly distorted claims. Obama never made an apology tour; he has cut taxes on the middle class, and has no plans to raise them. Most young college grads are employed, though not necessarily in the kind of jobs they want. Congress itself agreed, in its last budget deal, to slow military spending over 10 years. Obama's anticipated savings in some areas of Medicare would underwrite other Medicare enhancements, like closing the donut hole on prescription drugs and paying for preventive care. In fact, only Republicans want to end Medicare, or eviscerate it with partial vouchers of diminishing value for the purchase of private insurance.
Gasoline prices precisely four years ago averaged $3.67 a gallon, just 5 cents less than today -- though the crash of Lehman Bros. and the plunge into the Great Recession at the end of 2008 caused a huge but temporary dip in gasoline prices. Obama's agreement to allow state governors some flexibility in welfare work rules requires a higher level of work hours. And so on.
Romney's attempt to distort, malign or falsely depict Obama's hard-earned successes over Republican obstacles reflects Romney's own paucity of worthy ideas; they won't wash with thinking voters. Which explains why Romney is equally intent on wooing women (despite the GOP's war on women) and luring voters who don't comprehend the economic difficulties that have resulted from vast corporate off-shoring of jobs and a global slowdown due to recession in Europe and retrenchment in China and the rest of Asia.
It's clear that Romney's corporate friendly economic positions -- which make Wall Street speculators giddy -- will not do much for America's vast middle class. But his campaign isn't built on truth; it's build on social wedge issues and a shell game of falsehoods and distortion. The question is how many voters will be misled.