Looked at from a certain angle, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has been a grand experiment in whether it's possible to lie your way to the White House. Sure, all politicians stretch the truth like Play-Doh. They dissemble. They exaggerate. They tell the occasional out-and-out whopper. Traditionally, though, politicians tend to stick with truthiness, in the Colbert sense. Until now, there’s never been a presidential campaign built almost solely on a foundation of lies. Romney’s people have made no bones about it; his pollster, Neil Newhouse, told media at the Republican National Convention, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers." Strangely, that might have been the single most honest statement to come out of the campaign.
Romney has lied about Obama raising taxes on the middle class. He’s invented an overseas “apology tour." He’s sworn up and down that the president cut $500 billion from Medicare. He's claims that under Obama, the federal government will control half of all American industry. He's falsely asserted, over and over again, that the president has dismantled Clinton’s welfare work reforms. He’s tried to turn the auto bailout into a case of Obama “bankrupting” the car companies. The list goes on—so long that blogger Steve Benen has assembled no fewer than 917 examples of “Mitt’s mendacity.” And when he's called out, he doubles down. The great mystery, of course, is why—why, running against a fairly unpopular president with a fairly lousy economy in a politically divided country, would the challenger choose to abandon truth in such wholesale fashion? Only Mitt's God, or his shrink, can probably answer that question.
Frighteningly, until the past week, it didn’t seem to matter much. Some folks have been bothered, but they tend to be Obama people. “I’ve never—old as I am—seen a politician lie as much,” Cleveland voter Charles Stewart told the Prospect’s Clare Malone on his way to vote yesterday. “Just lie outright. Everybody varies the truth—you may stretch it from A to B, but he stretches in from A to Z.” But it’s conceivable—sweet irony!—that Romney’s last big lie could cost him the election. The ad in Stewart’s home state that makes a wild accusation that Jeep is transferring jobs from Ohio to to China has backfired mightly; as Paul Waldman writes, the campaign seemed to “forget that Chrysler and GM have their own interest in maintaining support for the bailout”—and would not stay silent about the Romney claim. They haven’t; neither have Ohio newspapers (of all ideological bents).
If this thing comes down to Ohio, as it might, a narrow Obama victory might be attributable to the very dishonesty that has seemingly, ominously, served Romney well. On the other hand, if Romney’s grand experiment pays off on Election Day, David Corn at Mother Jones just might be right: Campaign 2012 could mark “the end of political truth.” Or, rather, truthiness.