Just yesterday, I was delighted to note the Romney/Ryan welfare lie, which falsely accuses President Obama of “gutting” existing welfare law and “dropping work requirements,” had suddenly disappeared. After weeks of constant repetition, the Republicans’ ridiculous, racially-charged attack had vanished.
Alas, the respite didn’t last.
[O]n Wednesday morning, Ryan compared Obama to a different Democratic president – former president Bill Clinton, who is set to address the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this evening.
“My guess is we’ll get a great rendition of how good things were in the 1990s, but we’re not going to hear much about how things have been in the last four years,” Ryan, speaking before a crowd of several hundred in this small town west of Des Moines, said of Clinton’s upcoming speech. “And by the way, under President Clinton, we got welfare reform … which moved people from welfare to work, to get people out of poverty. President Obama is rolling back welfare reform.”
If the Republican candidate hopes to shake the “Lyin’ Ryan” moniker, he’s moving in the wrong direction.
Obama is “rolling back welfare reform”? As Paul Ryan almost certainly knows, that’s a transparent lie – the law remains very much intact. Every independent fact-checker in the country has rejected the lie, as have Bill Clinton and the Republican architect of the 1996 welfare reform law. Romney/Ryan allies can’t explain the lie, and Romney/Ryan staffers can’t defend the lie.
But Paul Ryan doesn’t care. The campaign isn’t about what’s true; it’s about what falsehoods he can get you to believe. As campaign officials said last week, after already having stressed the importance of fact-checkers, “[W]e’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.”
This particular lie, however, isn’t just predicated on racism; it’s also intended to try to use Clinton against Obama.
Indeed, this isn’t even new – the Romney campaign conceded months ago they hoped to use Clinton in the hopes of making Obama seem less moderate. The move, Romney’s advisors said, was “devised as a trick to drive a wedge.”
As John Sununu and the Wall Street Journal editorial page helped demonstrate overnight, along with Ryan’s lying this morning, the Republican strategy never really went away – they want voters to think Clinton is on their side, not Obama’s.
Jamelle Bouie notes how foolish this is.
Romney has every reason to want to tie himself to Clinton, but as a strategy for winning the election, it’s too clever by half. The 1990s weren’t a long time ago, and it’s absurd to think that voters have forgotten about impeachment. By tying himself to Clinton, Romney makes two mistakes: he gives Democrats a chance to highlight his opportunism, and opens himself to a blistering reply from the man himself. Tonight, we’ll probably see a little bit of both.
I suspect that’s right, but I can’t help but marvel at the developments anyway. In the 1990s, Republicans hated Clinton with the heat of a thousand suns. It was this unbridled hatred that led the GOP to launch an impeachment crusade.
In 2012, however, the Republican message seems to be, “Now we like Clinton; he’s not like that Obama guy,” as if there are meaningful policy differences between the two Democratic presidents (there aren’t).
Put it this way: to appreciate just how absurd this general line of attack is, imagine Republicans praising Barack Obama in 2024, and criticizing the Democratic president of the time for being insufficiently loyal to the Obama legacy.