Thursday, 25 October 2012

Lies and the Lying Liar Running for President

Waldman asks what everyone's thinking:
As the end of this election approaches, it's worth taking a step back and asking this question: In the entire history of the United States of America, from George Washington's election in 1789 on down, has there been a single candidate as unmoored from ideological principle or belief as Mitt Romney?

It's a question I asked myself a short while ago, to which the only worthy contender that comes to mind is, perhaps, Nixon. Yet beneath Nixon's blatant corruption, his boiling contempt for the electorate and the smirking insincerity of his attempts to convince people he was an individual possessed with ordinary mental function, there was a thread, a narrative - you knew where the guy stood. His lies were detectable - you knew enough about who he was to detect when he was deliberately trying not to be it.

Mitt Romney, by contrast, is the single most enigmatic politician to compete for the US Presidency in living memory. Every position he takes is a carefully orchestrated power-play designed to massage his audience's egos whilst indirectly insulting their intelligence at the same time. He hopes - no - knows that you've not been paying attention, and he'll exploit that fact all the way to the ballot box. To an extent, all politicians play fast and loose with their beliefs and go through some re-branding, especially when the Presidency is at stake; that's just an uncomfortable, depressing truth about the state of politics. Romney, however, is experimenting with something different and asking a question nobody has yet dared to ask, namely: can an individual become President of the United States of America without expressing any consistent, principled stand on a single issue throughout their career?

It's a question which should, in a perfect world, have an easy answer. Anybody willing to brazenly change not just a position or two, but an entire political philosophy and personality should be immediately disqualified from national office. Voters should be able to see through the cartoonish facade and be appropriately disgusted and insulted, but in 2012 an efficient propaganda campaign against Obama has allowed 'The Alternative' Romney to effectively slip by under the radar. There are some defenders of the Romney Approach to Political (In)Consistency, euphemistically referring to Romney's political sleight-of-hand as 'ideological malleability' - a willingness to adapt positions to the moment and be swayed by new arguments, or a sign of passion for the Presidency (seriously). Yet if Romney was, say, merely changing his position on an issue of considerable national dialogue such as campaign finance reform or the death penalty, that would be enough to give him a pass. But Romney doesn't just change his mind, he changes his persona overnight when doing so is politically expedient.

Yeah, yeah, politicians lie, why does it matter this time? Because lying on this scale has never been attempted before by a politician running for national office in the United States. Nobody has ever changed their entire policy platform six weeks before the polls open, because nobody thought it possible to live to tell the tale afterwards. If Romney wins, it will set a dangerous precedent that will, likely, be learned from; candidates without consistency and conviction will realise the advantages of unscrupulous dishonesty in running for political office and adjust accordingly. It's bad enough for democracy when one candidate runs on a fully cynical platform - now imagine if both candidates were mere weathervanes lacking philosophy, conviction, empathy or scruples. How would you, as a voter, be able to make a choice about who to vote for?

Romney needs to lose for a number of reasons, but not least because it might cause political consultants to reconsider such blatant manipulation of popular support. Conversely, if America wakes up on November 7th to a President Romney, the message will be loud and clear: consistency has no place in national politics.

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