For much of August, Mitt Romney proudly embraced as obvious a lie as has ever been heard in presidential politics. The Republican insisted -- in speeches, interviews, and ads -- that President Obama had "gutted the work requirement" in welfare law. He was blatantly lying, but didn't care.
Over the last month or so, Romney moved on to different lies, most notably about the auto industry, but in the campaign's closing days, the racially-charged welfare lie has made a comeback.
This unannounced attack ad, running in several key states, makes a series of claims, most of them false, but in making its indictment against the president, the ad argues at the outset that Obama "gutted the work requirement for welfare."
This isn't just another lie; it's presidential politics at its most disgusting.
What's more, Romney isn't relying on misleading technicalities, or hiding in some ambiguous gray area between fact and fiction. This is just a demonstrable, racially-inflammatory lie -- and the candidate knows it.
In case anyone's forgotten, Obama didn't gut the work requirements. As Romney knows, several governors, some of them Republican, asked the Obama administration for some flexibility on the existing welfare law, and the White House said that'd be fine, so long as the work requirement isn't weakened. It's consistent with the policy endorsed by many Republican governors, including Romney himself, just six years ago.
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.
And yet, Romney keeps repeating it.
We're well past the point at which this is an argument about policy. The question is now whether Mitt Romney has the integrity to hold national office -- or really whether he has any integrity at all.
With this ad, Romney is once again carefully extending his middle finger in reality's face. He doesn't care about getting caught -- his campaign has already said, "[W]e're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers" -- he just cares about what he can get away with as part of his quest for power.
This is the national political scandal of 2012, whether the political world wants to admit it or not.