Last week, Mitt Romney pretended to be amazed. "[I]n the past, when people pointed out that something was inaccurate, why, campaigns pulled the ad," Romney said. "They were embarrassed. Today, they just blast ahead. You know, the various fact-checkers look at some of these charges in the Obama ads and they say that they're wrong, and inaccurate, and yet he just keeps on running them."
It was among the more ironic complaints ever registered by anyone.
Romney launched a ridiculous welfare lie two weeks ago. People pointed out that it's inaccurate, but instead of feeling embarrassment and pulling the ad, Romney just blasted ahead, even after the various fact-checkers proved the smear isn't true. Today, the post-truth campaign continues apace.
In this new spot, released this morning, Romney once again accuses President Obama of "gutting welfare reform," by ending the work requirement in the law. While the Romney-Ryan ticket has been talking a lot about Medicare, the advertising focus has been on welfare -- this is the third ad Team Romney has released on the subject in the last 11 days.
For those who still care about reality, Romney's lying. Two Republican governors asked the Obama administration for some flexibility on the existing welfare law. The White House said that'd be fine, so long as the work requirement isn't weakened. It's consistent with the policy endorsed by many Republican governors, including Mitt Romney himself, just six years ago.
Indeed, with reality in mind, just about everyone -- Democrats, Republicans, reporters, editors, fact-checkers, policy wonks -- is well aware of the fact that Romney's blatantly lying. It is as demonstrably dishonest as any claim ever aired by a major-party presidential candidate -- it's not spinning details; it's not hiding in gray areas; it's just making up garbage to deceive the public. Worse, the racial subtext of the disgusting smear only adds insult to injury, raising questions anew about Romney's character and just how far he'll go to acquire power.
What's more, to reiterate a point from last week, if Obama were as awful a president as Romney claims, the Republican attack machine wouldn't have to make stuff up -- the truth would be so brutal that voters would recoil and flock to the GOP candidate naturally. What does it say about Romney's strength as a candidate that he has to make up garbage and hope voters don't know the difference?
And then there's an even larger question: shouldn't this be a scandal?
I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around the political world's strange standards. If a super PAC puts a video online with a dubious timeline, it's a multi-week scandal, and evidence of a campaign stuck in the gutter. If Vice President Biden uses a poorly-worded, off-the-cuff metaphor, it's a multi-week scandal, and proof that 2012 has become excessively ugly.
But if Mitt Romney gets caught repeatedly making an unambiguous, racially-charged lie, it's seen as somehow routine.
Why do gaffes and unaired web ads dominate the political world's attention, while shameless lying leads to shrugged shoulders?
Look, I realize politicians, especially those seeking national office, are known for stretching the truth, and the elasticity of our standards accommodate quite a bit of "spin." But the welfare smear is based on a clear falsehood -- Romney is saying a work requirement was removed that was not removed. When campaign officials and surrogates have been asked to defend the claim, they've come up empty.
So why does Romney keep repeating the lie? Because he thinks voters are idiots and he's certain political journalism isn't equipped to deal with a campaign predicated entirely on falsehoods.
This remains, in other words, a test. The fact that Romney feels confident in his ability to lie with impunity -- effectively taunting reality -- suggests the American political system is failing this test badly.