Ever since the presidential debate, President Obama's supporters have hounded Mitt Romney for his apparent shifts in position on issues ranging from health care to tax reform. And they're not using the euphemisms that are typically deployed in polite political discourse, instead calling Mitt an outright liar. David Plouffe, one of Obama's top election gurus, has said Romney "lie[d] to 50 million Americans" during the first debate, while Brad Woodhouse of the Democratic National Committee added, "Plenty of people have pointed out what a liar Mitt Romney is." Republicans are calling foul, saying the Obama campaign is engaging in a smear campaign. Is the Obama campaign out of line?
Romney is merely shifting to the center: "Romney has discovered his inner centrist," says Michael Gerson at The Washington Post. "Democratic officials accused Romney of 'outright fabricating' and 'basically lying'" about his positions, but in truth he is "tacking a bit toward the middle, as presidential candidates often do." Sure, he is highlighting the more palatable components of his proposals, while downplaying less popular ones, but that's not deception: "It is the nature of political persuasion."
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Romney lies. But Obama is no saint: All candidates "bend the truth, distort the facts, fudge the numbers, deceive, delude, hoodwink, equivocate, misrepresent, and, yes, lie, as a matter of course," says Jack Shafter at Reuters. Romney gets "top honors for lying more frequently and more brazenly," but Obama would just as easily "lie within 15 seconds of shaking your hand, and if he knew he were going to meet your mother, he'd invent a special set of lies for her." Politicians have "learned that political markets rarely reward honest campaigners," which is a reflection of the electorate's preferences for "candidates who make them feel better" over those who tell hard truths.
Actually, a lying Romney would be preferable: Whether Romney should be elected president "depends on how big a liar he is: The bigger the liar, the more acceptable he would be," says Michael Kinsley at Bloomberg. "If he has been telling the truth about his beliefs and intentions for the past year or so, he's plainly unacceptable. But if he's been faking it — if he's actually the classic moderate Republican businessman we suspect and not the conservative zealot he plays on TV [at least before the debate] — then it wouldn't be the end of the world if he won."
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