Or consider the recent "you didn't build that" attacks. Speaking to a campaign rally in mid-July, Obama made the observation that collective effort through government action—things like public education and bridges and roads—sets the stage for individual entrepreneurs to thrive. "When we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together," he said. But Republicans have taken one verbal stumble ("If you've got a business—you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.") wildly out of context to suggest Obama was saying that small business owners didn't create their own businesses.
More recently, the GOP has been replaying Obama saying that "we tried our plan—and it worked," suggesting that he was talking about his economic policies. But he was talking about the Democrats' approach to tax rates, pointing out that the economy thrived under the higher tax regime of Bill Clinton while the Bush tax cuts brought tepid growth.
Then there's the talking point about "President Obama's massive defense cuts." Said cuts come from looming sequestration triggered by the unsurprising failure of the "super committee" to produce a deficit reduction deal. While it's true that Obama signed the law creating the super committee and sequestration, he could do so only after bipartisan majorities in both chambers voted for it. "I would feel bound by it," House Speaker John Boehner said in November. "It was part of the agreement." Now we have Boehner unbound. And while Romney can rightly say he opposed the deal from the start, he prefers to simply ignore the history, take the cuts out of context, and paint them as part of a nefarious Obama scheme to strip America of its defenses.
None of this should be surprising. The first commercial Romney ran in this campaign, back in November, featured a clip of Obama saying that "if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose"—replaying a moment from the 2008 campaign in which Obama was quoting an aide to John McCain. ("What's sauce for the goose is now sauce for the gander," Romney said in defending the spot.)
If flat-out lies are the pre-convention norm—10, if you will—where do we go from here? Romney "believes it's time to vet the president," one adviser told Buzzfeed in mid-July. "He really hasn't been vetted. McCain didn't do it." Romney will. So excepting a brief, gauzy "meet Mitt" interlude during the Republican convention, expect a campaign that includes everything including the kitchen sink: drugs, socialism … can Jeremiah Wright be far behind? And while they may not reach the Romneyesque levels of serial whole-cloth fabrication you can be sure that Team Obama will reply in kind.
This campaign, in other words, is going to 11.