Two of the most recent TV ads of the presidential campaign are also both two of the most dishonest ads of the presidential campaign. A Romney commercial makes it sound as if President Obama has decided to mail a welfare check to everyone in America. That is not the case:
[D]oes the memo do what the Romney campaign charges — that it guts welfare reform, gets rid of work requirements entirely, and would “just send you your welfare check”?
Not exactly. The memo states, for instance, that HHS “will only consider approving waivers relating to the work participation requirements that make changes intended to lead to more effective means of meeting the work goals of TANF."
In other words, a state would have to offer an alternative program similar to the work requirements first put into place by the 1990s welfare reform law in order to receive the waiver.
And a new ad by the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action isn't much better. In the ad, steel worker Joe Soptic, who lost his job and his health insurance when Bain closed his plant, blames his wife's ensuing death by cancer on Mitt Romney. In reality:
Romney stopped his day-to-day oversight at Bain Capital in 1999 when he left to run the Salt Lake City Olympics, though he officially remained CEO until 2002. Bain Capital shut down GST Steel in 2001, costing Soptic his job.
According to Mr. Soptic, his wife received her primary insurance through her employer — a local thrift store called Savers — and retained it even after his layoff. Soptic's policy through GST Steel was her secondary coverage ...
It was a few years later, in 2006, that Ilyona Soptic went to the hospital with symptoms of pneumonia. She was diagnosed with stage four cancer and passed away just days later.
This hardly marks the first time that lies have appeared in campaign ads. What's striking about these lies is how unnecessary they are. You would think that the two men running for president weren't highly flawed candidates harboring glaring vulnerabilities that actually exist. President Obama oversees a struggling economy where the unemployment rate remains above 8 percent. Mitt Romney is a convictionless, flip-flopping private equity titan with a Swiss bank account. Is this not enough material for either side to work with?
Clearly, the campaigns (and their supportive super PACs) have decided that, despite the many honest lines of attack at their disposal, the dishonest ones are so much more effective that they're worth the potential backlash. It's a calculation that, under ideal circumstances — ideal for the democratic process, that is — wouldn't add up in their favor. But it increasingly seems like it does.
It would be easy to blame the referee — the media — for this Sad State of Things. But it seems to us that most outlets are constantly fact-checking campaigns, questioning their claims, and calling out their distortions. Could they do it even more? Sure. However, this is only an effective deterrent to lying inasmuch as voters are willing to (a) pay attention, (b) listen with an open mind, and (c) punish lies in the polls and at the ballot box. If the penalty for lying in a campaign is merely a stern tsk-tsking from various corners of the media, that's not really a penalty at all.