Mitt Romney’s Potemkin Village

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No questions, thank you very much.Photo: Justin Sullivan/2011 Getty Images

A couple of weeks ago, Mitt Romney’s campaign released an advertisement showing President Obama saying, “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” It was, essentially, a lie. The footage was from Obama in 2008, and he was disdainfully quoting a member of John McCain’s campaign, not describing his own position. After Obama objected to the unusually brazen distortion, Romney’s campaign has cycled through a series of justifications: Obama did say those actual words; Obama has been negative before, so he's hypocritical to complain, as long as you ignore the distinction between negativity and intentional deceit. Now the campaign has settled on a new justification that’s quite breathtaking. Here is a Romney operative talking to reporter Tom Edsall:

“First of all, ads are propaganda by definition. We are in the persuasion business, the propaganda business … Ads are agitprop … Ads are about hyperbole, they are about editing. It’s ludicrous for them to say that an ad is taking something out of context … All ads do that. They are manipulative pieces of persuasive art.”

This new justification is a frank embrace of the postmodern approach to truth. The assumption here is that, since a campaign’s arguments are designed to persuade the audience of a predetermined conclusion, they do not need to uphold any standards of truth whatsoever.

This disposition flows naturally from the disconnect between the Mitt Romney presidential campaign and Mitt Romney the man. Romney is running a campaign as “Mitt Romney,” an Obamacare-hating, tough-on-immigration, climate-science skeptic. Now, obviously, all the Republican candidates are running on a similar theme. Most of them actually believe it. But Romney is acutely aware of the disconnect between the character of “Mitt Romney” and the actor portraying him. Because Romney is too intelligent to fall for his own ruse, his campaign is one large Potemkin facade, designed to shield him from the interjection of reality.

This explains Romney’s almost fanatical avoidance of media interviews with any perceived risk of difficult questioning. Romney has completely stiffed the Sunday talk-show circuit for over a year, instead offering access only to the powder-puff stylings of Parade magazine and Jennifer Rubin, who makes this awkward teen look like a pit bull in comparison. Romney’s shockingly inept interview with Fox News’s Bret Baier, in which he refused to explain how he would handle illegal immigrants living in the United States and generally bristled at relatively straightforward questions, seems to have resulted from a mistaken assumption that he wouldn't be asked any probing questions whatsoever.

Jim Rutenberg, reporting from the last GOP debate, ran into the Romney media firewall:

Spotting the reporter, Mr. Romney’s aides sprang into action, asking where he worked and what he was doing there, and then insisting that he not physically approach Mr. Romney before or after he was questioned on television by the attorneys general and Mr. Huckabee.

The request was reiterated to executives at Fox News.

It seems strange that a candidate as intelligent and articulate as Romney would require such diligent shielding from questions. But it’s precisely because of his intelligence that Romney must stay within his antiseptic bubble. Unlike Rick Perry or Herman Cain, he isn’t a dolt. Unlike Newt Gingrich, he doesn’t exist in a constant state of childlike romantic self-delusion. He has a precise, calculating mind. To his credit, he seems all too aware of his own lies and requires constant protection from them.