For all his supposed business competence, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is running a campaign of jaw-dropping incoherence, mixing some of the most dishonest rants from right-wing talk radio with focus-group worries about health care and the economy even if they clash with conservative principles.
You saw this at the Republican National Convention, which was almost fully devoted to gross distortions of President Barack Obama's positions -- like the endless repetition of his out-of-context quote, "You didn't build that" -- combined with complaints that Obama had not intervened enough in the economy to create more jobs, even in contradiction of the GOP's supposed love of "free markets."
Seemingly without regard for the delicate circumstances, Romney issued a statement that transformed the embassy's criticism of the video into an expression of sympathy by the Obama administration for the protesters who attacked U.S. diplomatic outposts in Egypt and, fatally, in Libya. However, to make his point stick, Romney had to reverse the actual chronology of events.
Here is how the chronology actually went: Early on Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy in Egypt sought to calm tensions by issuing a statement condemning "the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims."
Despite the embassy's message, hours later, mobs of angry protesters attacked the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. In Benghazi, the assault involved weapons which led to the deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three of his aides.
Shortly after 10 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi."
However, Romney saw an opening to hammer home his beloved theme that President Obama "apologizes for America." Disregarding the actual chronology, i.e. that the message by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo preceded the mob attacks, Romney put out a statement at 10:24 p.m., which declared: "It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."
Romney's statement ignored Secretary Clinton's stern words, which represented the first official response from a senior member of the Obama administration. However, rather than correct his mistake on Wednesday, Romney expanded on his criticism of the embassy officials in Cairo and implicitly defended the offensive video.
Romney said, "the Embassy of the United States issued what appeared to be an apology for American principles. That was a mistake." The principle that Romney appeared to be defending was the right to grossly ridicule someone else's religion, while ignoring a competing American principle, tolerance of the religion of others.
On Wednesday afternoon -- after his own somber and stern response to the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic outposts -- President Obama said in an interview that "Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later."
A Troubling Pattern
But Romney's problem appears to be somewhat different. Both during the Republican primaries and since he nailed down the GOP nomination, he has demonstrated a readiness to say whatever he thinks will help him politically without regard to its truthfulness or its fairness.
While it's common for politicians of all stripes to stretch the truth now and then, Romney has taken that behavior to a new level. He lies, distorts and misrepresents in a wholesale fashion, not the occasional retail fib that is more typical. Then he refuses to apologize as if accountability is not for him.
Earlier in Campaign 2012, Romney even won some grudging respect for his skill as a liar. On April 16, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote:
"Among the attributes I most envy in a public man (or woman) is the ability to lie. If that ability is coupled with no sense of humor, you have the sort of man who can be a successful football coach, a CEO or, when you come right down to it, a presidential candidate. Such a man is Mitt Romney."
Cohen cited a Republican debate during which former House Speaker Newt Gingrich accused Romney's SuperPAC of running dishonest attack ads. Romney claimed that he hadn't seen the ads but then described -- and defended -- the content of one.