San Pedro, CA - Romney's campaign is so deeply rooted in lying about Obama that his campaign book, No Apologies, takes its title from the false accusation that Obama has apologised for the US. What Obama has actually done is repudiate Bush's Romney-like arrogance (while simultaneously criticising anti-American attitudes). Funny, how Republicans mistake their own arrogance for the US itself. How downright foreign they are to Thomas Jefferson's concern for "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind" expressed at the outset of the Declaration of Independence.
Then, when Romney officially announced his candidacy, he claimed: "When he [Obama] took office, the economy was in recession, and he made it worse, and he made it last longer," another false claim (chart here, from Table 1 here). The economy was shrinking catastrophically at an 8.9 per cent annual rate during Bush's final quarter year in office - the worst quarterly drop in more than 50 years.
Obama's policies did not start to kick in until the second quarter of 2009; and over the course of that quarter, the economy barely shrank at all - 0.3 per cent annually. The next quarter, the economy grew at a 1.4 per cent annual rate (thus ending the recession as economists define it), and it has not stopped growing since - hitting or exceeding four per cent growth in two quarters - compared with Bush's three quarters of four per cent growth in eight years.
Of course, one can criticise Obama's economic policies - which have been far too cautious and small-minded for the scale of disaster he inherited - a depression, not just a recession. But criticism is one thing. Lying is quite another.
Campaign of lies
The Romney campaign also lied in the first general election ad it launched. It presented a clip of President Obama saying, "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose," as if it were Obama today, talking about his own campaign. But it was actually candidate Obama in 2008, saying virtually the exact opposite: "Senator McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote: 'If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.'"
These are hardly the only lies Romney has told. Far from it. Romney and his campaign lie so frequently that chronicling his lies has become an ongoing feature of the Maddow Blog. So it was really no surprise when Romney lied again about Obama's completely uncontroversial point that individual wealth is dependent on society as a whole.
Once again, Romney used the technique of taking Obama's words out of context, so that their actual meaning was completely perverted. But the original passage makes Obama's point unmistakable:
"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business - you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the internet so that all the companies could make money off the internet.
"The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."
Following the lead of the right-wing blogosphere and Fox News, Romney mendaciously took a single sentence out of context, "If you've got a business - you didn't build that", when it's clear from the passage as a whole that "that" refers to the "this unbelievable American system", not to an individual business.
It's important to point out that Romney lies, not simply to question his character, or to cast doubt on anything he might say. His well-established reputation as a flip-flopper suffices for those purposes. The lies must be pointed out in order to grasp how the very meaning of the US has been betrayed or buried by the conservative movement, which produced catastrophic failure under the Bush administration and is now scrambling desperately to cover its tracks.
The 20th century was a very bad one for US conservatives. They brought the US the Great Depression and never controlled all three branches of government again for the rest of the century. They needed a big win for the 21st century to turn out any better. But they finally did control all three branches for most of Bush's presidency - and once again produced unmitigated disaster.
Hence, the need to falsify reality reached astronomical levels, and even the most conservative Democratic president since Grover Cleveland - a man committed to a whole host of Republican ideas, not least the substantial cutting back of the US welfare state - had to be portrayed as a covert foreign agent of demonic intent.
Failures of conservatism
The lie of Obama's absolute otherness is now an article of faith, a finger in the dyke to hold back all the accumulated failures of conservatism - its failed wars, failed economics, failed social policies, failed rejection of empirical evidence. If the most conservative Democratic president in more than 100 years can successfully be portrayed as phantasmagorically "other", then maybe, just maybe, no one will notice how totally and spectacularly US conservatism has failed.
Such is the deepest implicit conservative hope, and the feckless political press of the US is providing conservatives all the cover one could imagine via its "he said/she said" even-handed treatment of truth and lies.
The whole thing would fall apart if the media would simply call a lie a lie. But that would be "biased", according to their cockamamie "ethical" standards.
At one level, the point Obama was making is so obvious, even trivial, that Romney himself said almost exactly the same thing - as Comedy Central's John Stewart pointed out by running parallel statements from Obama and Romney one right after the other. And, indeed, decades of polling shows strong bipartisan support for infrastructure spending, a prime example of the principle involved.
Yet, at another level, there really is a profound divide here. Romney's hollow lip-service about the importance of fire-fighters and police does nothing at all to reverse the ongoing downsizing of state and local government that has cost thousands of firefighters and police officers their jobs over the past few years. More than 600,000 public sector jobs have been lost since the financial collapse, roughly the same number of jobs that are normally added during an economic recovery.
And there's much worse to come: Romney's support for Paul Ryan's budget would not only end Social Security and Medicare as we know them, it would shrink government as a whole back to the level of the 1920s, when the US was still a third-rate military power.
This is not only wildly unpopular as well as impractical. It is also profoundly un-American, in sharp contrast to Obama's professed commitment to a strong social foundation of shared prosperity, which is profoundly American.
We can see this in the words of Founding Father Tom Paine, who wrote - in his own version of "you didn't build that":
"Personal property is the effect of society; and it is as impossible for an individual to acquire personal property without the aid of society, as it is for him to make land originally.
"Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist, the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man's own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilisation, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came."
Other Founders echoed similar sentiments, but Paine was distinctive as both a visionary and a commoner - that was the power and genius of Common Sense, without which the American Revolution would have failed.
The passage above comes from Agrarian Justice, in which Paine argued for a social insurance system for young people and the aged, based on a national ten per cent tax on inherited property. Here he seemed much more the visionary, far ahead of his time, anticipating programmes that would not arise anywhere for almost a century.
Yet less than a decade later, his friend Thomas Jefferson signed the Louisiana Purchase - essentially, the financing side of the largest public welfare programme in American history, which laid the foundation for millions of family homesteads and related small businesses, while effectively tripling the size of the United States.
Still, Jefferson was somewhat of an anomaly in the South. As Robin Einhorn explained in American Taxation, American Slavery, the anti-tax tradition in US politics stems from the Southern slaveholding economy, of which Jefferson was a part, however troubled he might have been by it.
I interviewed Einhorn for Random Lengths shortly after her book came out. "What I found is that in early American history, slaveholders in particular were terrified of majorities deciding how to tax them. So they came up with strategies of how to stop that," she told me. "There is a long tradition of denying majorities the right to decide how to tax wealth in this country," she added.
That's a large part of the reason why it was Northern-centred parties - first the Federalists, then the Whigs, then the Republicans - who led the way in building US infrastructure, and creating public wealth, up until the time of the Great Recession. It was, of course, an often flawed and corrupt system - wealth rarely appears without corruption as well. And yet, the wealth itself was undeniably real.
Had the anti-tax Southern slaveholders prevailed over the Northern-centred nation-building tradition, the US would have remained an agricultural backwater of the British Empire, economically dependent in fact, politically independent in name only. One of the leading figures in this tradition was Henry Clay. As the US Senate website explains:
"Henry Clay's 'American System', devised in the burst of nationalism that followed the War of 1812, remains one of the most historically significant examples of a government-sponsored programme to harmonise and balance the nation's agriculture, commerce, and industry. This 'System' consisted of three mutually re-enforcing parts: a tariff to protect and promote American industry; a national bank to foster commerce; and federal subsidies for roads, canals, and other 'internal improvements' to develop profitable markets for agriculture. Funds for these subsidies would be obtained from tariffs and sales of public lands. Clay argued that a vigorously maintained system of sectional economic interdependence would eliminate the chance of renewed subservience to the free-trade, laissez-faire 'British System'."
Clay's "American System" became, in turn, the standard model for successful modernisation projects around the world. Second only to the notion of democracy itself, it represented the essence of the US' unique transformational gift to the world - a gift that US' political class now openly scorns.
Stark historical truth
Although President Obama is far too enamoured with free trade to count as a true apostle of Henry Clay, he does at least share some sense that government has a positive role to play in creating the conditions of national cohesion and prosperity - as typified by his auto bailout (saving an estimated one million jobs - which Romney opposed) and stimulus spending.
Far from being an alien political philosophy, this represents the dominant perspective in US political history across the centuries - despite Southern opposition - up until the Reagan-era embrace of British-style "free trade" and the massive de-industrialisation that followed, eventually hollowing out the middle class.
Manufacturing reached an all-time peak of 19,553,000 jobs under Jimmy Carter in June of 1979, followed by a loss of 1.8 million jobs under Reagan and Bush I, and 4.5 million under Bush II - compared with more than 300,000 gained under Clinton. Bush II left office with one third fewer manufacturing jobs than when Lyndon Johnson left office - amid a population that was 50 per cent larger.
Although Obama has proven incredibly weak and ideologically indecisive compared with past Democratic Presidents such as Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Johnson, he - like Clinton - at least has some sense that this recent course of events is ill-conceived and must be altered.
It is Romney's much more extreme, unconditional embrace of laissez-faire - which makes outsourcing quality jobs inevitable - that is both alien to the core political tradition represented by Clay and is deeply destructive to the general welfare of the nation as a whole - much like the Southern slaveholder ideology from which the GOP's anti-tax ideology derives.
This is the stark historical truth that lies hidden behind the blizzard of media disinformation that keeps Romney's torrent of campaign lies alive. This is what Romney's lies are desperately trying to hide. So far, he's succeeding, despite the shambles his campaign is in, and thanks largely to the so-called "liberal media" with its false equivalence of facts and lies.
Paul Rosenberg is the senior editor of Random Lengths News, a bi-weekly alternative community newspaper.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.