An acquaintance of mine who is mostly apolitical but knows that I write about politics called late last week and asked me how I felt about "your guy" Mitt Romney causing a woman to die from cancer.
"My guy"? Hardly (I told you he was mostly apolitical).
This person told me that a claim advanced by Obama super-PAC Priorities USA in a recent TV ad that Romney caused a woman's cancer death was so absurd that anyone with an ounce of sense should be able to see through it. I replied that we're not that lucky. Too much of the electorate either isn't sufficiently perceptive or is so blinded by ideology that they will believe anything negative about those with whom they disagree.
Beyond that, I informed him that more news outlets, pundits, and bloggers than I can hope to enumerate have shown that the attempt to tie Romney to the death in 2006 of former GST Steel employee Joe Soptic's wife Ilyona because of business decisions made by Bain Capital, where Romney withdrew from active management in 1999, doesn't even work as attempted. A Wall Street Journal editorial last week summarized matters succinctly:
So Mr. Romney is to blame because of decisions he didn’t make at a business he didn’t run that may or may not have set in train a series of random unconnected events many years apart that included Ilyona Soptic’s illness. Even more culpable is the butterfly in Peking that flapped its wings and forever altered the course of history.
The attempts at backpedaling which have followed have shown that the Obama campaign and its super-PAC surrogates were primarily interested in foisting a big lie onto the relatively disengaged. New York Magazine's Daily Intel blog noted that Mr. Soptic and Priorities USA now deny that the ad "meant to give viewers the impression that Romney essentially killed a woman." (Then why did you guys produce it?) Attempts by the Obama campaign to distance itself from the ad don't pass the laugh test, given that, as Politico's Reid Epstein reported, "Soptic also appeared, wearing what appears to be an identical shirt, in a May television ad for the Obama campaign." On Sunday, Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod told ABC's Brian Ross-enabler George Stephanopoulos: "I don't think anybody -- anybody believes that Mr. Soptic's wife, that Governor Romney can be blamed for the death of Mr. Soptic's wife, and frankly, I don't think the ad says that either."
From all appearances, Team Obama's mission is accomplished. The big lie is out there, and almost no one who hasn't already made up their mind will read or otherwise be aware of the three items just noted.
In 1980, the campaign of vulnerable incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter tried to save their guy's fragile hold on the presidency by claiming that Republican challenger Ronald Reagan's election would, as expressed by legendary co-columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, put a "mad nuclear bomber" in charge of the nation's security. It didn't work, but it made the election less of a Reagan blowout than it should have been. This time around, Obama is basing his by some accounts fading reelection effort on convincing enough Americans to matter that Mitt Romney's election will lead to middle-class killing fields.
A desperate establishment press is rolling out new variants of the "fake but accurate" excuse first employed to defend the phony documents disgraced former CBS anchor Dan Rather presented in an attempt to discredit George W. Bush's Texas Air National Guard service over three decades earlier during the 2004 presidential campaign. Probably the most risible is Michael Crowley's August 8 post at Time's Swampland blog. Crowley headlines the ad as "dishonest but important," and describes it in his opening paragraph as "at once the most dishonest and substantive ad of the summer." Here is more "logic" from Crowley:
Narrowly judged, the ad is scurrilous. ... The distance between Romney and this woman’s tragic death is substantial, and even if you want to argue the causal culpability of Romney (which one can't, as the Wall Street Journal stated -- Ed.) and Bain, the ad deceitfully condenses the story.
... But the more accurate version of this heartbreaking story is still worth telling. Indeed it may be the best illustration this campaign has offered of how politics affects the lives of ordinary people.
Thus, it would appear that Crowley wishes to lower the bar to enable political campaigns to smear opponents with responsibility for others' deaths without consequence as long as they somehow serve larger narratives (to be clear, I don't, but he apparently does).
Well, if that's the "standard," there's plenty of fertile ground in Barack Obama's 43 months of presidential stewardship for similar claims, including but by no means limited to the following:
- Ethanol. In the midst of a summer drought which is hurting crop yields, the administration's Environmental Protection Agency and Agriculture Department are resisting calls, even from its beloved United Nations, to waive the Renewable Fuels Standard, which dictates "that 9 percent of their gasoline pools are made up of ethanol this year, which means converting some 40 percent of the corn crop into the biofuel." How many in the U.S. and around the world might die from hunger and malnutrition if the EPA fails to act?
- Energy Costs. Gas prices are heading towards $4 a gallon yet again, making commutes prohibitively expensive for many and affecting companies' ability to hire additional employees. Meanwhile, the administration continues its war on coal, which will, as candidate Obama promised in 2008, cause energy costs to "necessarily skyrocket." Some people will die sooner than they otherwise would have if they can't find work and/or heat or cool their homes adequately.
- Delphi. The linkage here is far more direct. Completely contradicting past denials, recently released documents show that Obama's Treasury Department "was the driving force behind terminating the pensions of 20,000 salaried retirees at the Delphi auto parts manufacturing company" during the 2009 auto company bailouts. The aftermath for those affected has been devastating, up to and including suicides. Meanwhile, "Delphi employees who were members of the United Auto Workers union saw their pensions topped off and made whole." Treasury lied; salaried people, apparently not as worthy of legal protection as politically favored union members, died.
If Team Obama continues going down the "people will die if my opponent is elected" path, Mitt Romney's campaign will need to strike back with direct arguments like Delphi and others. The administration's regime of virtually open borders and the Fast and Furious gunrunning scandal would seem to be two obvious additional choices.
This is absolutely not the time for an unchallenged test of whether Obama's strategy of appealing to the ignorant will work.