Debate Club

There are No Limits on Dishonesty in the Obama-Romney Race


Dishonesty? There's so many lies, half-truths, and omissions permeating this year's election cycle that there isn't enough fact-checking sites across the entire Internet to help voters wade through the morass.

The latest misrepresentation holds that President Obama seeks to restrict the rights of military voters by challenging Ohio's early voting law. Early voting gives people more time to vote. It's an option funded by the Help America Vote Act of 2002, a federal law that provided monies to help states increase voter turnout. Ohio provided three days of early voting in 2008. But this year it's only doing the same for military families. The Obama campaign is suing the Ohio Board of Elections so that early voting applies to all.

But with just a few omissions of facts, voila: Mitt Romney has a campaign talking point that reinforces the perception that four more years of Obama is four more years of Orwell's Big Brother. Republican's have a charge that deflects the public from understanding the true meaning of why early voting is being curtailed in Ohio and many other Republican-controlled states. Early voting gives the president an electoral edge. The majority of early votes cast in 2008 where for him.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

Obama's surrogates are just as guilty. The pro-Obama super Pac Priorities USA's "Understands" ad linking Romney to a steelworker's wife's cancer death is so egregious that it almost tops President Lyndon Johnson's 1964 "Daisy" commercial, one of the first televised campaign spots that used the images of a child picking daisies, a missile launch countdown, and a nuclear explosion to make voters believe that Barry Goldwater would bring about World War III.

"Understands" manipulates voters into thinking that the shuttering of GST Steel by Bain Capital left this man's wife vulnerable to sickness because he lost his health insurance. What's omitted is that we don't know what her health state was prior to the layoff, whether or not the man had elected COBRA coverage, whether or not her cancer was curable, or a whole host of other factors that would explain why this woman died. None of which have anything to do with Mitt Romney. The ad is pure propaganda: an appeal to fear, disinformation, and intentional vagueness.

[Check out our collection of political cartoons on Super PACs.]

What can voters do to stop this madness? Sadly, nothing, unless they make some wholesale changes to how they understand politics. Most voters either don't have the time or the interest to pay attention to what's going on in Washington, and if they do, it's very hard for them to cut through the talking points that hide the realities of these events. Not to mention, the effects of which are magnified by the high degree of partisan bias shackling the public. Voters are more likely to believe what their party says because of their loyal to that party. This coupled with the sophisticated marketing techniques candidate have at their disposals makes it pretty hard to get candidates who present honest claims about their opponents.

Now this is not to say that what's going on this season is anything new or different. Propagandist, factually incorrect, manipulative campaign rhetoric has been a key part of political campaigns all the way back to the nation's founding. But up until recently, there were some normative constraints in place which kept politicians from going too far, either a commitment to the idea of the loyal opposition, or simply just trying to avoid getting egg back on their faces. Today, there are no limits. If anything, the 2012 election will teach us that honesty is a loss leader. Candidates must avoid it at all costs.

Jamie Chandler

About Jamie Chandler Political Scientist at Hunter College

Romney, Mitt
Obama, Barack
2012 presidential election

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