A T-shirt from Mitt Romney's campaign. (Photo credit: mittromney.com)
Perhaps it was inevitable when you combine the Republican "do-anything-to-win" strategies, honed from the days of Richard Nixon, with the Right's vast media machine, built over the past several decades, that America would have a campaign like the one waged by Mitt Romney and a GOP convention like the one just completed in Tampa.
In a speech to the 1988 Republican National Convention, President Ronald Reagan blundered in quoting John Adams' famous remark that "facts are stubborn things," except that it came out of Reagan's mouth as "facts are stupid things." Reagan's mangled quote would have fit nicely at the GOP convention 24 years later.
The GOP convention had the feel of a cult meeting in which everyone agrees on the same false premises. Speaker after speaker reprised President Barack Obama's out-of-context quote -- "you didn't build that" -- accompanied by endless Republican signage and t-shirts. Everyone with a brain knew that Obama's "that" wasn't a reference to a person's business but to the roads, bridges and infrastructure -- indeed, the American system of public-private cooperation dating back to the Founding -- that help businesses succeed.
But the speakers and the delegates had to act as if they believed the lie that has become a centerpiece of Mitt Romney's campaign, that Obama meant that no businessman actually built a business. Similarly, everyone had to believe that Obama had eliminated the work requirements in welfare reform though they also had to know that his administration had simply responded to a bipartisan appeal from state governors to give them greater flexibility in implementing the work-requirement law.
Indeed, looking in at the Republican convention was like peering into a bizarre alternate reality where all the people accept lies as truth. Acceptance of the fabrications seemed something of a prerequisite to be in the cult. Anyone who would dare to point out the "you-didn't-build-that" distortion or expose the lie about gutting welfare reform would have been identified as a heretic.
So, speaker after speaker repeated the lies and delegate upon delegate cheered the lies. There was almost a pride and defiance in the lying and the cheering, as if the Republicans were in a full-throated rebellion against what one of George W. Bush's aide's once derided as the "reality-based community."
An Anti-Reality Coalition
What may be qualitatively different now is the quantitative acceptance of this contempt for reality by so many Americans. This "anti-reality" coalition, which has grown steadily over the past several decades, may now be close to a plurality, at least among those Americans who are likely to vote (or be allowed to vote) in November.
That also appears to be the calculation of the Romney campaign whose strategists sense that the United States has reached -- and possibly gone past -- a tipping point into a political world contemptuous of empiricism and science. Their confidence is buttressed by the growing American distrust toward settled matters of science, from evolution to climate change.
It's there, too, in the racist conspiracy theory about Obama's birthplace, an ugly and baseless suspicion that Romney revived with a "joke" just before the convention when he told a crowd in Michigan that "no one's ever asked to see my birth certificate."
Though mainstream pundits were quick to make excuses for Romney -- NBC's Tom Brokaw, for instance, insisted that it was just a clumsy joke -- Romney's "birther" reference coincided with his strategists explaining how they were trying to bolster Romney's lead among white, working-class men.
For Romney to offer a wink that he shares the doubts of millions of "birthers" that Obama isn't "a real American" fits neatly with his campaign's broader strategy, which also includes bogus claims that virtually non-existent voter fraud justifies strict (and often arbitrary) voter ID laws that everyone knows are designed to suppress the votes of black, Hispanics and the poor -- to give white votes greater weight.
Shutting Up Truth-Tellers
While Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the powerful right-wing media predictably support this inverse reality of Romney World, the timid mainstream press mostly shields Romney from the obvious -- and distasteful -- conclusion that his presidential campaign has evolved into a foul brew of blatant lies, race-baiting and Jim Crow-style voter suppression.
In the name of "balance," the "centrist" press often flips over backward. For example, the New York Times' TV critic Alessandra Stanley took to task the liberal commentators at MSNBC for using tough language in assessing dishonest claims by Romney and other Republicans. Stanley went so far as to suggest that the MSNBC crew should be muzzled.
"You can agree with everything that Rachel Maddow or Ed Schultz say on MSNBC and still oppose their right to say it," Stanley wrote in Friday's editions. "Especially when they and their hyped-up panelists shout that Republican claims are 'lies,' or Chris Matthews says that Republicans view welfare recipients as 'looters.'"