Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Hyperreal Candidate: What Mitt Romney's Lies Say About the Credulity of the Media

Has there ever been a candidate for President as brazenly, transparently dishonest as Willard Romney? Here is a guy who treats complex political views as commodities to be traded on the International President of the United States Market, and who seems to have no conviction in life aside from his own success. Sure George W. Bush was a risible fuck who grinned and guffawed as he used racist campaign tactics to beat his political foes and had more contempt for the democratic and judicial process than any President in US post-war history, but at the very least Dubya had the decency to not insult his electorate's intelligence by changing his stance on virtually every issue he'd ever held. George W. Bush thought that Americans would know a stinking rat when they saw one - Romney hopes you'll think the smell is just your fridge malfunctioning. The media, meanwhile, are more than happy to go along with it.

Let's backtrack a little bit. I know what I'm about to say is hardly news to anyone but it's important for contextual reasons. In a now-infamous video from a 1994 debate against Ted Kennedy, Romney outlined a bunch of views which he now disowns. I won't recount them in full here, but on abortion in particular, he was pro-choice, and took the view that it should be 'safe and legal' in America. This isn't new information – Romney is well-known for being the master of what in the UK we call a U-Turn and the Americans call a flip-flop, but what gets reported less often is what Romney gave as his motivation for his pro-choice belief - he said that it was because he had a friend who passed away from an illegal abortion. After writing that previous sentence, I had to step back from my laptop for a minute, because I not only found the notion of a woman dying from an illegal abortion distressing, but I also realised that giving such a reason as a motivation for your belief in the legalisation of something which you personally find repugnant (which Romney was key to reiterate) is a sign of intellectual and emotional maturity – something which Governor Romney has been sincerely lacking in this campaign. What's even more impressive is that this story is true. Nowadays, Romney is well-known for being a pro-life candidate who publicly disavows Roe v Wade, making it a central issue of his campaign. However, when asked by Bill O'Reilly last year, he said the reason for his change in position was because he realised that Roe v Wade should not be sustained as the law and required opposition because of his commitment to the sanctity of life, or something. No mention of his dead friend.

That Romney has never been asked about this is an indication of the complicity of the US media in the rise of this paragon of dishonesty to be an apparently worthy contender to the highest office in the land. Whenever Romney is quizzed on his changes of positions, he's simply given the benefit of the doubt that someone is entitled to change their views and sure, they are, but they're not entitled to change their identity. Romney tried to out-liberal Kennedy in 1994, ran as a moderate Republican when Massachusets required it, ran as a social conservative in 2008 when he spotted a gap in the market and now runs as a kind of non-entity that insists on 'talking about' the economy whilst doing nothing of the sort (platitudes are not conversation, Governor).

Hunter S. Thompson said of Richard Nixon that his ascendancy was aided by the adherence to so-called objective journalism, depite some situations requiring the subjective examination of a person's character - '[h]e looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see [him] clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful'. Equally so, does anyone really expect us to believe that Romney spent the years between 2008 and 2012 soul-searching and undergoing a spiritual and ideological transformation which would make Saint Paul wince? Why is it that he's allowed to give self-serving interviews in which he spouts awkward non-answers about the Greatness of America, yet he's never quizzed on his changes of position?

The only possible answer is that the mainstream media has become cynical in both definitions of the word. They both facilitate the rise of non-people like Romney for their own selfish reasons, as well as accept the premise that politicians and politics in general are irreparably dishonest and that efforts to hold Presidential candidates accountable for their dishonesty are fruitless since that's just what they do. It's long been known that Romney lacks substance on a variety of issues, even by GOP standards, yet the only people who've called him out on it so far are people who aren't in the same room as him. When Fox News of all places called him out on his lack of consistency, a visibly uncomfortable Romney used the fall-back line that he was taken out of context: 'this is an unusual interview', said the Governor. Yet why is being asked obvious questions about ideological inconsistency unusual? The only thing which is unusual is that he isn't asked it more often.

(Image: Mitt Romney in Colorado. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

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