Check, Please!

We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.

Neil Newhouse, pollster for the Romney campaign

This week everybody was talking about Clint Eastwood

Clint was at some big political rally in Florida (I didn’t catch the name of it) when he launched into a bizarre improv discussion with an invisible Barack Obama, represented by an empty chair.

To Jon Stewart, this scene explained everything:

I could never wrap my head around why the world and the president that Republicans describe bears so little resemblance to the world and the president that I experience. And now I know why: There is a President Obama that only Republicans can see.

Michael Moore elaborated:

Clint Eastwood was able to drive home to tens of millions of viewers the central message of this year’s Republican National Convention: We Are Delusional and Detached from Reality. Vote for Us!

As big stars sometimes do, Eastwood inadvertently created an internet phenomenon to rival Pepper Spraying Cop: Eastwooding

Inevitably, it led to this response from an earlier meme:

I intend to use it as a quick slang for telling Republicans to get real: “I think you’re talking to the chair again.”

… and the rest of the Republican National Convention

Back in the day, political conventions made news. Outcomes were uncertain and speeches captured a party’s internal policy differences. (To get a taste, rent the 1964 film The Best Man.)

These days, of course, conventions are infomercials that can’t be taken at face value. The only honest information is in the subtext, and illuminates questions that mainly interest political junkies: What image does the party want to project? Who is their target audience? What do they think their best/worst issues are?

Bill Maher pointed out one major subtext:

Republicans don’t have to accept evolution, economics, climatology, or human sexuality, but I just watched a week of their national convention, and I need them to admit the historical existence of George W. Bush.

References to Reagan popped up every now and then, but Bush has become an un-person. Bill Clinton is the headliner in Charlotte Wednesday night, but W and Dick Cheney weren’t even in Tampa. The convention needed Condi Rice for diversity, but not even that could get Alberto Gonzalez to the podium.

Don Rumsfeld? John Ashcroft? Never saw them. Karl Rove has moved on to be a major SuperPAC player, but they kept him off-stage.

Eight years down the memory hole. But don’t worry, George, you’ll be remembered this week in Charlotte.

Nate Silver thinks it’s still too soon to measure the size of Romney’s convention bounce, “but the information we have so far points toward its being a little underwhelming.” His model still gives Obama a 74.5% chance of re-election.

Similarly, Gallup pegs Romney’s convention speech as the least effective since Bob Dole.

My favorite convention wrap-up was on Saturday morning’s “Up With Chris Hayes”. “Up” is consistently the best political discussion on TV. It’s like you’re on a weekend retreat with the sharpest political observers around, and you all get up and chat while the coffee is brewing. Hayes himself is the smart-but-congenial host we all want to be.

… and how to cover lies

A second major piece of convention subtext concerned the press. A controversy has been brewing for a while about Mitt Romney’s relationship with the truth, which Grist’s David Roberts describes like this:

Political campaigns have always lied and stretched the truth, but when caught in a lie, would typically defend themselves (claim it was actually true), retract, or at the very least stop repeating the lie. Either way, the presumption was that truth-telling had some moral force; one ought to tell the truth, even if that commandment was often honored in the breach.

What’s creepy about the Romney crew is that they don’t do any of those things. They don’t deny, they don’t stop, they just don’t care at all.

For weeks now, journalist blogs have been buzzing about how to respond. Sure, you fact-check, but the Boston Phoenix’s David Bernstein tweeted this follow-up question:

Dear media critics: OK, entire news media called Romney’s welfare attack a lie. Campaign still pushing it. Now what?

Journalists either had to find a way to increase the pressure, or just admit that their whole profession doesn’t matter any more — we’re in a post-truth era, where the powerful can make up their own facts.

During the RNC, they increased the pressure like this: The consensus of fact-checkers has itself become a fact that an objective reporter can report in a news article, not on the opinion page. So the NYT headlined a news article “Facts take a beating in acceptance speeches“. And an L.A. Times news headline read: “Rick Santorum repeats inaccurate welfare attack on Obama“.

We’ll see if this makes any difference, or if Romney is right in his assessment that the press’ disapproval is a wristslap compared to the benefits of lying.

I hope the Obama campaign is paying attention. The press would love to “balance” their coverage of the RNC by finding inaccuracies at the DNC. Even trivial fact-fudging is going to come at a high price.

Minor victory: Paul Ryan had to back off the claim that he ran a sub-three-hour marathon. I wonder if he ever played golf with Kim Jong Il.

… but I wrote about Paul Ryan’s character in general

A lot of people have written about the influence of Ayn Rand on Paul Ryan. But I haven’t seen many confess their own teen-age Rand obsession and give an insider’s view. Since I already admitted most of it last year in Why I’m Not a Libertarian, I might as well explore the psychology of teen Randism in Ayn, Paul, and Me.

The interesting question is: Why didn’t Ryan grow out of it, as most of us do?

… and you might also find this stuff interesting

Ron Fournier almost took a job with John McCain four years ago, but he’s also not going easy on Romney: Why (and How) Romney is Playing the Race Card.

Mike Lofgren was a Republican congressional staffer for 16 years, but even he (writing in The American Conservative, of all places) has noticed that the rich aren’t really Americans any more:

Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it.

Dan Froomkin writes a depressingly realistic article about the jobs of the future:

As the super-rich get even richer … they will need maids, cooks, and gardeners.

So is that an issue in this election?

The fact is that there is no Democratic jobs plan, if Republicans are able to keep either their control of the House or their ability to paralyze the Senate, or both. And there is no Republican jobs plan at all.

Who is this rude giant?

This week’s most fun image:

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  • […] I was already on that story last year: The Sift’s Theme of 2011 was Escape from Bizarro World, and I spelled out the nuts-and-bolts of how it works in Liberal Media, Conservative Manipulation. A regular subject of my campaign coverage this year was the media meta-discussion about how to cover lies. […]

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