Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Obama wave to the audience during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver on Oct. 3, 2012.
Do Americans really care whether they are being lied to, or does the polling on the first presidential debate show that while Americans like a good fake reality show, their minds are already made up anyway?
Mitt Romney’s debate performance may show that you can “win” a debate and become less “likeable” at the same time. This I will dub the “Kardashian factor.”
The problem to me is that if the American people find aggressive lying entertaining, will they eventually be unable to tell the difference between lies and reality? I fear that time, indeed, is approaching.
We have entered the age of “post-truth” and our entire political process has degenerated as a result. Our politics looks more and more like episodes of “Survivor.”
Be warned: “post-truthfulness” will inevitably bleed into all areas of our lives as a result, from intimate relations to our social and work lives. It is the essence of the amoral, where individuals or whole nations are unable to perceive or are indifferent to questions of right or wrong.
Oddly enough, however, it was neither President Obama nor challenger Romney whom many thought, myself included, who was the worst performer of the evening. Instead, that honor goes to the deferential moderator, Jim Lehrer. Time and again, Lehrer was “steamrolled” by Romney who simply talked over Lehrer and “lied his way through the debate with no challenge from moderator Jim Lehrer.”
President Obama, who also could have challenged Romney on these untruths, stuck to his narrative and didn’t decisively call Romney out on it. Obama didn’t win points for that. In fact, Americans, it seems from the sum of the post-debate polls, prefer aggressively told lies to explanations. At least, perhaps, until after a few days when they realize it was just a reality show.
Romney denied he has proposed a $5 trillion tax cut, but since he has given no specifics on the elimination of “offsets” like tax deductions and credits, the $5 trillion is the only hard number available. Romney repeated the untruth that President Obama is “cutting $716 billion” from Medicare, but these are actually savings from reductions in fraud and waste. Gas prices have not “doubled,” as Mr. Romney claimed.
Perhaps the worst lie of all was Romney’s claim that people with pre-existing conditions would be covered under his plan, a claim that a Romney adviser immediately walked back after the debate.
Finally, Romney “essentially revived the idea of death panels” by claiming Obamacare established “a board that will tell people what kind of treatment they’re going to get.” Nope.
The best moment of the debate, frankly, and where reality may have intruded, was when Romney essentially fired both Jim Lehrer and Big Bird: “I’m sorry, Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too.”
Big Bird tweeted:
Now, Romney, that one moment of truth-telling will come back to haunt you, mark my words. It took four minutes for @FiredBigBird to be created.
But for the rest of the debate, it was truth that lost. Hands down.
Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress