Lies, Damn Lies

By Begala, Paul | Newsweek, November 19, 2012 | Go to article overview

Lies, Damn Lies


Begala, Paul, Newsweek


Byline: paul Begala

How the GOP helped Obama win.

At h i s final rally, Barack Obama stood before 20,000 adoring Iowans, just yards from the Des Moines headquarters where his 2008 Children's Crusade began. Something happened. Something we have rarely seen: Obama wept. A few elegant tears slowly descended from his left eye, perhaps in appreciation of the enormity--and the improbability--of what he was about to accomplish. Within 24 hours those tears had turned into dancing. The reelected president was more exuberant, more idealistic, even, than the sober, somber young president-elect of Grant Park 2008. And for good reason.

The economic current against President Obama this year was more like a typhoon than a tide. To put it into perspective, from Truman-era 1948 to Bush-era 2008, America experienced a total of 39 months during which the unemployment rate sat at or over 8 percent. In the 46 months that Barack Obama has been president, we have had 43 months over 8 percent. Median household income for the middle class has dropped by almost $5,000 since 2000. And median net worth-- the total wealth of a middle-class family--dropped by a staggering 40 percent between 2007 and 2010.

Given those economic realities, it Obama wasn't impeached. The fact that he has been reelected is the surest sign that his parents gave him the right name: "Barack," which means "blessed."

How did he do it? Let me count the ways.

The Republicans Helped Him. The strongest Republicans--Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, John Thune, Haley Barbour--all took a pass this time. And so Americans looking to replace the president were treated to a clown-car primary in which a new leader emerged every week--each crazier than the last. Romney was the strongest candidate in a weak field, but that's a dubious honor--kind of like being voted the sexiest member of the Supreme Court.

Romney dispatched each rival by outspending him or her by many millions, and by outflanking them on the far right. Let me tell you, when you're attacking Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum from the right, you are out there. Romney could have run as a moderate. He could have accepted the Bowles-Simpson call for the rich to pay slightly more in taxes. Or opposed 30-round ammo clips for assault weapons. Or stuck with any of his multiple-choice positions on abortion or gay rights.

Instead he ran to the right of George W. Bush, abandoning his support for Bush's sensible comprehensive immigration reform and shamefully attacking Gingrich and Rick Perry for daring to treat undocumented immigrants as human beings.

Romney made a brazen effort to move to the middle in the final weeks of the campaign and it almost worked. If he had run consistently as a Massachusetts moderate, willing to challenge the outdated orthodoxy of the far right, he might be president-elect today.

Fibbing Fails. In his first ad, Mitt Romney quoted Barack Obama saying, "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose." But that was Obama quoting a GOP aide four years ago. The full quote is: "Senator McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, 'If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.'" From that deceitful ad to his last, disgraceful falsehood that Jeep was transferring production to China, Romney ran a stunningly dishonest campaign. But the leader of the Party of Lincoln should have known you can't fool all of the people all of the time. Romney's Jeep ad backfired, and Obama's support among union members in Ohio--the kind of folks who build those Jeeps in Toledo--far surpassed his 2008 support. Romney may as well have run ads that said, "I think you're stupid," because that's the message voters got.

Conventions Are Still Consequential. Every four years we hear the gripe that conventions don't matter. Baloney. No, there are no smoke-filled rooms in which grizzled pols horse-trade over who the nominee will be: the nominees are chosen by voters. …

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