I grew up in Ohio in the 1950’s and 60’s when truth-telling and a man’s word were thought to be reflections of the man, himself. It was a time when a person’s reputation for honest dealing was always a work in progress, a thing of great value.
On a farm outside a small Ohio town – I was twelve years old at the time – I witnessed a close-shaved, steely-eyed, no-nonsense farmer in bib overalls hand my father $1000 in cash as a deposit on a construction job. My father started to write out a receipt and the man said, “That’s not necessary, Sam. Your word’s always been good with folks around here. Your hand on it is good ‘nuff for me.” Then the farmer reached out and shook my father’s hand.
I was never so proud of my father and I learned something of great value that morning standing beside a milking barn with the farmer and my father.
Fast forward fifty years: I listen to Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and recognize that these are men to whom their word and the truth are negotiable instruments, not unlike the collateralized debt obligations and derivatives of questionable value which brought America to its knees during the last Republican administration. What is equally disturbing about Romney and Ryan is that they believe the vast majority of Americans, especially evangelical Christians [the author is not an evangelical Christian], are of strikingly low intelligence or sufficiently gullible as to believe their most egregious, but obvious fables.
For example, Romney glibly claims that while at Bain Capital, he “restructured” sound companies with mountains of high-interest junk-bond debt for the purposes of “wealth creation” benefitting workers and stockholders, when in fact, Romney’s touted formula for “wealth creation” was nothing less than a calculated program of exporting jobs overseas and disposing of assets for the sole purposes of “wealth extraction” benefitting only himself, Bain Capital, and a few clients.
Romney, after writing an article advocating allowing the automakers go bankrupt and opposing Obama’s government bail-out the automobile industry during the economic meltdown, smiles sincerely at a reporter and waxes poetic in pure Orwellian double-speak about how pleased he is to be able to take credit that his “managed bankruptcy” ideas had a great deal to do with saving the automobile industry. That no banks had money to lend the automakers at the time for a “managed bankruptcy” is immaterial to Romney’s historical revisionism.
Romney continues to deny, with both injured sincerity and anger, the claims that his Massachusetts Romneycare health insurance program is the framework for Obamacare. Obviously, Romney is a man who will say 2 + 1 = 5, or any other nonsense with absolute sincerity to further his interests.
Romney’s truth-challenged cohort, Paul Ryan, pointedly criticized President Obama for not following the Simpson-Bowles commission deficit-cutting recommendations. What is most bizarre and deceitful of Ryan’s criticism of the President is that Ryan makes no mention that he, Ryan himself, as a commission member, voted against these recommendations.
For the past three years Paul Ryan has sanctimoniously and vehemently blamed Obama for deficits mostly created by programs that Ryan, himself, voted for: two wars, tax cuts benefiting mainly the wealthiest Americans, new Medicare benefits, TARP, without regard for the economic disaster of the previous Republican administration.
It is not that Romney and Ryan do not know the truth; it is not that they have lost the capacity to recognize the truth. Clearly, though, one must become suspicious of the motives and abilities of those who so carelessly misplace the truth.
Yet, no Republicans, including conservative chroniclers of virtuous vitriol, like the Krauthammers, Coulters, and Kliens (Edward-types), seem upset with the prospect of two brazenly duplicitous characters, Romney and Ryan, assuming the highest offices of the land. What appears to be more important to a great swath of Republican voters is that Romney and Ryan are Christians, not that their policy positions, however self-serving, transient, and ethereal they may be, are socially draconian, fiscally catastrophic to the middle class, and chest-thumpingly warlike. The character and truthfulness of Romney and Ryan appear to be of little importance or consequence to those who support them.
What I find disturbing is that dishonesty and maliciousness both Romney and Ryan employ in democrat/Obama-bashing are, to their supporters, positive character references, holding them in good stead. Truth and civility seem to have little to recommend these candidates to their base. More than all the election year hyperbole and lies, it is this fundamental change in the character of so many Americans that I find so disheartening for America’s long term prospects.
The past few years since President Obama’s election have left many incredulous at the mendacity, obstructionism, and outright lies Republicans tell, and have left so many with a lingering malaise about our political system. And it is this malaise, an overt sabotaging of efforts to turn the economy around, that Republicans are hoping to inculcate in the poor and middle-class voters who voted for Obama last time around, to get them to vote Republican in the fall, or better yet, not vote at all.
Therefore, voters must turn out to deny them the fruits of their efforts. Although we become accustomed to seeing politicians bend truth to the awl of reelection campaigns and “political expediency,” we have never witnessed national candidates, Romney and Ryan, telling more obvious falsehoods with such abandon and low regard for their reputations as honest men or disregard for the intelligence of voters.
When Romney, Ryan, Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell (of “Our first priority is to deny President Obama a second term [not jobs]” fame), and their mendacious cohorts ply their trade, the image of the steely-eyed farmer in bib overalls often comes to mind. And I wonder, what would that farmer, to whom a man’s word was so important, think of these men?