I’m feeling better. In my last post I suggested it was a kind of post-hippie, gauzy-eyed, chemical flashback optimism that led me to think America’s generally flaccid “mainstream” press corp was stumbling toward holding politicians accountable to the truth this season. Now I think I can grasp something tangible. In the course of a week two remarkable events have leapt out into the media’s face.
First, Paul Ryan’s speech to the GOP convention. And then … Mr. Ryan’s highly revealing claim that he once ran a two-hour fifty minute marathon.
Over the past seven days people like James Fallows at The Atlantic have noted the — unusual — lengths The Los Angeles Times and other publications have gone to dissecting Ryan (and others’) convention speeches for their shameless parade of fractional truths, complete non-truths and stuff they just clearly pulled out of their white asses. Simultaneously, the topic of what reporters (and their revenue-anxious bosses) should do in the face of “campaigns” demonstrating such a complete indifference to facts and accuracy has dominated conversations on earnest, wonky, “reality-based” public radio shows like “On the Media”. While the latter is speaking to a niche audience with — just guessing here — a single-digit affinity for the Romney-Ryan ticket and the entire modern GOP ethos, if I dare call it that. When big, second-tier papers like the LA Times (albeit in securely Democratic California) start making an issue of flagrant lying, you can safely say the worm is turning.
As I said last week, part of the problem is that the GOP campaign to date has been such a colossal farce. First it was the Sarah Palin-Herman Cain-Michele Bachmann-Donald Trump vaudeville act. Now we have Mitt Romney, a man who has been so steadfast in his refusal to explain exactly how he’d create 12 million jobs, get tough with Vladimir Putin and lay out to fellow Americans precisely how he bootstrapped his way to fantastic financial success that the ordinary press has little option other than to treat a strategy of opacity and rhetorical fraud as a bona fide issue. The press suspects, as I believe the general public also does, that Romney’s career is built on a bedrock of semi-piracy, (gorging on the casino spin of debt, which as Bain handled it required sliding gutted pension programs off on taxpayers) and the ruthless gaming of a tax system that his company and peers lobbied into existence.
But this marathon business — an otherwise silly exaggeration — accelerates and ingrains the notion that Romney and Ryan can be/must be handled differently than even a manifest air head charlatan like Sarah Palin.
Where the roots and mechanisms of Romney’s fortune remain obscured by the arcane terminology of exotic finance — and Romney’s refusal to disclose anything more to “you people”, as Mrs. Romney refers to the press adds to the curtain — flagrant lying like Ryan on his marathon prowess is a much easier — much easier — window for the average voter into “the real person within”. (BTW, that “you people” line/attitude is not a good strategy for keeping the impudent media dogs off your lawn.)
Big, highly public events like political campaigns are always vulnerable to seemingly extraneous, petty events that distort the careful focus, like someone suddenly slapping on a fish-eye lens. So it may well be with Ryan’s marathon gaffe and how it cements a now well-established reputation for self-aggrandizing mendacity. Post-marathon bullshit, his crediblity is seen through fundamentally different glass.
The “average voter” probably had the same reaction I did to hearing about Ryan’s whopper — told on a right-wing radio show, not over drinks with his P90X buddies. When a guy exaggerates his prowess at anything, by a little, no one much notices or cares. For me to say for example that I once shot par at the Edina Country Club might astonish anyone who has seen me play golf, but the average audience probably won’t think a moment longer, assuming even the worst duffer can have one out-of-his-mind experience. But … if I go around saying I shot a seven-under par, anyone who has ever played the game has a whiplash moment. Life teaches discerning adults that someone who feels a need to lie/prevaricate so flagrantly is someone with a psychology that knows it is a house of lies and is essentially pleading to be caught and revealed.
Several writers and sites have noted the popular response to Al Gore for “saying he invented the internet”, something he never said but suffered with far more patience than I could have ever mustered. Gore’s actual statement has been heavily fact-checked, and he has a long career built on treating scientific facts as sacred, “inconvenient” things.
Not so much in Ryan’s case. What he said in a half-dozen different points in his big, nationally televised speech and about his marathon ability has now been heavily fact-checked … and proven wholly, utterly false or at best, grossly misleading.
Team Romney may believe they can get away with running the first wall-to-wall completely post-factual All Bullshit campaign, unabashedly ignoring demands for details and transparency and shamelessly repeating the most transparent lies.
But I’m saying they have taunted and tempted an inconvenient fate.