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Romney's Psychopathic Debate Strategy: Past, Present and Future

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Veena Trehan
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The new Mitt loves old people, teachers, the middle class and schools
The new Mitt loves old people, teachers, the middle class and schools
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The new Mitt loves old people, teachers, the middle class and schools by Gage Skidmore
Mitt Romney helped design a debate environment that would accommodate dishonesty. He exploited it by escalating a campaign strategy of false accusations and outright lies, knowing he was unlikely to be caught. For those who see American politics as sports entertainment, Romney crafted the rules and called off the refs, before cheating. Romney "won" the debate like Lance Armstrong "won" seven Tour de France races or the Cincinnati Reds "won" the 1919 World Series. But more than a gilded trophy is at stake. Now it's America's future. 

The presidential debates weren't always a ridiculous spectacle of "mini-speeches" and zingers. For several debates prior to 1988, the League of Women Voters invited and grilled two or three candidates. Then the major party candidates presented the League with stifling new rules, prompting League President Nancy M. Neuman to refuse to "perpetrate a fraud on the American voter" by adding debates to the list of "campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions." Thus the Commission on Presidential Debates was born. It uses secret rules to hamstring the moderator, making calling candidates on their lies more difficult, and the questions easier. Third party candidates could play an important role in fact-checking and promoting alternate strategies like relying more on taxes and debt. Yet these parties are banned unless they poll over 15 percent in five national polls.

Thus Romney was left with only one fully capable presidential candidate or moderator. So he predicted President Obama would lie, implying he himself would personify integrity and the two should take the moral high road.

That left the media. As expected, it chose instantaneous and assertive coverage over accurate and comprehensive analysis. The lead in should have been, "Romney thoroughly misrepresented himself and the president's policies. His statements contradicted his earlier positions on education, Medicare, health care and taxes. He flat-out lied about Obama's record on employment, energy, financial regulation and health care. Every hour for the next week we'll come back an updated, detailed list because voters need to know." Instead, they applauded Romney energetic albeit awkward acting. The media has since followed the Romney's speeches and "pre-gamed" the vice presidential debate, rather than effectively communicating debate lies and misleading statements. Not surprisingly, more voters now see the man who cheated six ways to Sunday as a fuzzy Democrat in Republican's clothing.

But to paraphrase the Occupy movement chant, "This is NOT what democracy looks like."

But why lie in the debate? Hadn't Romney done the intellectual and value-based work of creating a defensible, inspiring policy agenda? No. He was missing the one "must have" for a presidential candidate -- a viable plan. He was running on a Republican platform no mother -- or anyone interested in America's future -- could love. And that was before he endorsed vice presidential pick Paul Ryan, whose House-passed budget would devastate Americans' health, education and prospects.

But Romney got called out. Former president Bill Clinton's substantive convention speech showed the private equity emperor as naked -- lacking feasible plans for taxation, health care, Medicare and financial regulation.

Romney then shifted into attack mode for two weeks, misleading the country on American deaths; vaguely criticizing China policy and redistribution; and accidently insulting half the country to their face. Then he revealed tax information showing he earns much more, but is often taxed less than the government "freeloaders". But instead of reconciling his daily reboots, the press allowed him to execute an Etch-A-Sketch strategy. Romney avoided sustained press opprobrium with almost daily changes of topic.

The debates arrived as the Republican nominee was floundering. So Romney used his core competency of forgetting, lying, and contempt reflected in his "Outsiders"-like rich boy haircut assault and policy reversals on health care, abortion and Medicare. His "trickle down" plan wasn't selling, so what? Adopt the Democrats' vision and champion the middle class, teachers and elderly. Grab some vague lines at odds with earlier positions.

With the refs off the field, Romney put on his telltale opportunistic smirk and prevaricated, including:

-           Saying about twice as many people were unemployed as actually are, thrice during the debate.

-           Claiming energy jobs that are already forecasted would result from his presidency.

-           Claiming $90 billion was spent on green jobs rather than less than half that.

-           Saying half the businesses went bankrupt versus 13 percent (at most), well within the set aside for the nascent industry.

-           Slamming the president for $716 billion in Medicare cuts included in the Ryan budget he endorsed, and promoting a private Medicare voucher program that would create issues with affordability and access.

-           Hiring more teachers instead of the fewer he advocated for earlier, or would exist under a Ryan budget.  

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Veena Trehan is a DC-based journalist and activist. She has written for NPR, Reuters, Bloomberg News, and local papers.
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