Campaign 2012: The ‘post-truth’ era

Voters are growing more cynical than ever, as mudslinging and dishonest attacks become the norm.

If politics had a referee, said Mona Charen in NationalReview.com, he’d blow his whistle and disqualify the Democrats for running “the dirtiest, emptiest, and most deceptive campaign in memory.” Harry Reid’s made-up claims about Mitt Romney’s taxes were bad enough, but this week, the pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA stooped even lower, with a TV ad effectively accusing Romney of murder. The ad features a laid-off steelworker, Joe Soptic, recounting how, after Romney’s Bain Capital closed his plant, he lost his family health insurance, causing his wife to not seek cancer treatment until it was too late. “It’s a sad tale, affectingly told,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. The truth, however, is that the plant closed two years after Romney left Bain, and Mrs. Soptic died five years after the plant closed. Unable to run on his dismal record, a desperate Obama is now relying entirely on “allegations about his opponent that bear no relation to the observable universe.”

It’s hard to feel sorry for Romney, said Kevin Drum in MotherJones.com, since he’s probably the most blatant liar who’s ever run for president. Romney’s “post-truth” campaign has made an art of splicing and editing Obama’s speeches to distort his meaning, and is now resorting to “just baldly making stuff up.” Romney’s latest attack ad accuses Obama of trying to roll back welfare reform so that recipients would no longer have to work—a racially charged allegation without even the flimsiest basis in reality. Every independent fact-checker has ruled the ad a “pants-on-fire” lie. Romney has also charged that Obama was trying to keep military personnel from voting in Ohio, said Steve Benen in MSNBC.com, and made a string of other “transparently false claims.” Clearly, Romney is “convinced that there are no consequences for breathtaking dishonesty.”

In the Super PAC era, dishonest attacks may be the norm, rather than the exception, said Ellis Henican in Newsday. The Supreme Court has ruled that these new, well-funded attack groups can “smear at will and do it anonymously.” Why wouldn’t they lie with impunity? Both Obama and Romney would seem to prefer mudslinging to “really grappling with the things Americans rightly fear,” said Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal. As a direct result, voters are growing more cynical than ever, and we’re “becoming a nation that believes nothing. Not in nothing, but nothing that we’re told by anyone in supposed authority.”

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