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Cover Story

Big Red Lies

Does democracy stand a chance against the Republican Party's dishonest strategy?

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As U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell famously declared in 2010, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." Not jobs. Not a balanced budget. Not better schools or a cleaner environment or defeating al-Qaida. But total, absolute political victory.

At least he was being honest.

Truth, of course, has always been the first casualty of ambition. And the Obama campaign has hardly been blameless. But the president and his supporters' flirtations with mendacity have been just that – pushing the boundaries of context, cherry-picking numbers, etc. And those deserve to be denounced. For example: The Obama campaign's allegation that Romney opposes abortion even in cases of rape is wrong; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's assertion, made without any evidence beyond the word of an unnamed source, that Romney hadn't paid taxes for the last decade was rather galling, even if Romney's tax-related secrecy is nothing to celebrate; and a super PAC's connect-the-dots ad linking Romney to the death of the wife of a worker his company laid off struck a particularly sour note.

But where Obama has flirted, Romney has dropped trou and whipped his dick out. After declaring this summer that Obama should pull any ads to which fact-checkers object, he invented wholesale Obama's welfare policy in dog-whistling ads targeted to working-class whites. Fact-checkers howled, but Romneyland didn't care. The ads were working. One Republican pollster told the National Journal's Ron Fournier that "white working-class voters who backed Obama in 2008 have moved to Romney in recent weeks 'almost certainly because of the welfare ad. We're talking a point or two, but that could be significant.'"

As longtime Brookings Institute congressional scholar Thomas Mann, hardly a radical leftist, recently observed, "The Romney campaign has, as is strikingly evident at the Tampa convention, broken new ground in its brazen and cynical disregard for the truth."