We talked last week about an unexpected challenge for Republicans: the party was heavily invested in attacking President Obama for an unemployment rate above 8 percent, and found itself in an awkward position when the jobless rate dropped to 7.8 percent.
How the GOP and Romney/Ryan deal with these improving conditions is of great interest, since the results may help dictate the 2012 election. On ABC yesterday, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) offered a great example of how not to deal with the facts.
For those who can’t watch clips online, Jake Tapper noted a clip from the vice presidential debate in which Paul Ryan said the unemployment rate is going up “all around America” – an argument that happens to be wrong. The host asked Portman a simple but important question: “Now, senator, this has been weak economic recovery, without question, but it is a recovery, and unemployment is going down, just as a factual matter. Why would Congressman Ryan, in defiance of facts, suggest otherwise?”
To which Portman responded:
“I think that what he was saying was the truth: which unemployment is higher today than when the president took office. Unfortunately, in the meantime, we’ve created net zero jobs, Jake.”
This is genuinely remarkable. Ryan was caught presenting a false claim to the nation, and asked to explain why, one of the Romney campaign’s leading surrogates told a national television audience, in effect, “The lie is accurate.” When the book is written on the evolution of post-truth politics, this anecdote should be in the first chapter.
As an objective matter, unemployment is lower today than when the president took office, and we’ve seen a net increase in job creation. Portman – a sitting U.S. senator and former budget director – surely knows this, but chose to say the exact opposite. Why? Because he thinks he can get away with it. Post-truth politics is liberating that way.
You see, Portman doesn’t like our reality, so he has no qualms about making up his own version of facts, and asking Americans to believe him – even though he’s blatantly, shamelessly lying.
Putting aside all other considerations, it’s just not healthy for a political system when one side of the political divide decides to substitute one version of reality for another. Words, facts, arithmetic, and objective truths must maintain some sort of meaning or our basic ability to have a political conversation will deteriorate into chaos.