As his briefly front-running campaign sunk in the polls under relentless punishment from Mitt Romney's "super PAC" allies in the days before the Iowa caucuses, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich caused a brief stir by matter-of-factly telling a TV interviewer that Romney is a "liar."
"Why are you saying he's a liar?" his apparently shocked interlocutor pressed. The notion that Mitt Romney routinely makes statements lacking a factual basis should not come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the campaign. On the left, Paul Krugman has marveled that no other candidate has ever "lied so freely, with so little compunction." On the right, The American Conservative's Daniel Larison wondered about why he lies, concluding that the former Massachusetts governor is "so contemptuous of the people he tells lies to that he never thinks he will be found out."
With Romney sweeping Iowa and New Hampshire and leading in the polls in South Carolina, this is a good time to catalogue some of Romney's greatest hits thus far.
"100,000 new jobs." Romney has repeatedly claimed that during his tenure at Bain Capital, "net-net, we created over 100,000 jobs." His campaign defends the figure by tallying the current employment totals of some companies Bain aided. That's a stretch in and of itself, but it's also not a net figure. It lacks the balancing context of how many jobs were destroyed by Bain. As the Los Angeles Times reported in December, while Bain helped some companies grow, "Romney and his team also maximized returns by firing workers, seeking government subsidies, and flipping companies quickly for large profits. Sometimes Bain investors gained even when companies slid into bankruptcy."
Indeed, the Wall Street Journal looked closely at Bain's record under Romney and found that 22 percent "either filed for bankruptcy or closed their doors by the end of the eighth year after Bain first invested, sometimes with substantial job losses." Which is not really terribly surprising: Bain's raison d'etre is not job creation but wealth creation for its investors. As Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler noted in an article Monday calling Romney's "100,000 jobs" figure "untenable," Romney and Bain "never could have raised money from investors if the prospectus seeking $1-million investments from the super wealthy had said it would focus on creating jobs."
As a corollary, when Romney's record has been criticized, he has dismissed criticisms as an attempt to "put free enterprise on trial." It's not an attack on free enterprise. It's an attack on Romney's strained attempt to spin his successful record of wealth-creation into one of job-creation. It's also a recognition that while a net good, the free market has its destructive side--and it's a fair question to ask, whether voters consider experience in that sort of vulture capitalism as a good qualification for the presidency. Do they want government to be run more like that kind of business?
Obama's jobs record. By Romney's own logic (touting jobs created but ignoring jobs lost), his attacks on President Obama's economic record are nonsensical. He told Time that Obama "has not created any new jobs," and he told Fox News last week that Obama has "lost" 2 million jobs as president. This is indeed a net figure, but also a misleading one. When Obama took office, the economy was shedding jobs at a rate of nearly 1 million jobs per month, losing roughly 3 million during the first four months of 2009. But presidential policies don't take effect as soon as the incoming chief takes his oath. Once Obama's policies started to take effect, the trend turned. The country had added 3.2 million private sector jobs over the course of 22 straight months of private sector growth. By Romney's definition, the president has created more than 3 million jobs--not enough, but also not none.
In fact the biggest drag on job growth is the 600,000 public sector jobs that have disappeared under the auspices of budget austerity. As my colleague Danielle Kurtzleben reported in September, "government jobs are being shed by the tens of thousands almost every month, hindering an already weak recovery."
"Entitlement society." Romney has argued that Obama "is replacing our merit-based, opportunity society with an entitlement society," where "everyone is handed the same rewards, regardless of education, effort, and willingness to take risk." As New York's Jonathan Chait has observed, "This accusation is approximately as accurate as claiming that the Republican Party wants to pass laws forbidding poor people from making more money." The idea that President Obama (or any Democrat) advocates for equality of outcomes simply lacks a basis in fact.
It's an important fabrication, because it marks a turning point in Romney's attacks on Obama. Previously the president was characterized as ineffectual, but not a socialist. Forced to battle to win the GOP primaries, Romney has adopted the Tea Party's extremist rhetoric. It won't play with swing voters, even delivered in his polished drone.
Defense cuts. In an October speech on national security, Romney promised to "reverse President Obama's massive defense cuts." One problem: Pentagon spending has gone up under Obama, from $594 billion in 2008 to $666 billion. The 2011 request was for $739 billion. As Rick Perry would say, "Oops."
No apologies. Romney has said that Obama "went around the world and apologized for America." This is part of the conservative, dog-whistle meme that Obama is un-American (and possibly even a foreigner!). While the notion of an international apology tour is a staple of the conservative case against Obama, it is also fictitious. The Washington Post's fact-checker concluded that "the claim that Obama repeatedly has apologized for the United States is not borne out by the facts, especially if his full quotes are viewed in context." Don't hold your breath waiting for an apology from Romney on this one.
"Mitt." It's a small one, but might be my favorite. During a debate in November, when moderator Wolf Blitzer introduced himself by saying that "Wolf" is really his first name, Romney greeted the audience by saying, "I'm Mitt Romney, and yes, Wolf, that's also my first name." In fact, Willard is his first name. It's a lie notable for being so mundane: Why would someone fudge their name? It's almost as if he can't control himself.
--See a slide show of Mort Zuckerman's 5 Ways to Create More Jobs.
--See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP hopefuls.