It is impossible to know if Mitt Romney would turn out to be a good, bad or a mediocre president, but one certain downside of a Romney victory is that it would reward the most venal forces in American politics.
It only starts with the kind of campaign Romney has run. He and his "super PAC" allies used a mountain of dollars to produce unending waves of attack ads that swamped the messages of his Republican primary rivals, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. In the general election, Romney cranked it up a notch. President Obama’s own money machine paid for a slew of hard-hitting attacks against Romney that employed exaggeration and selective facts, but none of the Obama ads reached the same low level of deception as those put up by Romney as he zeroed in on the president.
Of course, disgustingly misleading attack ads have become ubiquitous at all levels of politics this year. Whether Romney wins or loses, that is unlikely to change. Still, seeing a campaign for president propelled to victory on so many outright falsehoods cannot be good for the republic.
That would be the lesser of the ill effects of a Romney win, though. Much worse is that the right wing’s broader onslaught of derision and lies against the president that began even before he took office would have achieved its goal. Barack Obama may, or may not, deserve reelection. But no man with as much decency as Obama exhibits in both his private and public life deserves the contempt that has been dumped on him by arch-conservative ideologues, talk show ranters and Internet goons.
From Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Donald Trump to all the anonymous creators of the wild fabrications that churn out of websites and go viral in emails, the relentless vilification of Obama has been unprecedented. Sure, every president suffers unfair criticism. Many of our most effective presidents, from Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln to Franklin Roosevelt and Bill Clinton, have been slandered and hounded by critics. But Obama’s detractors have plumbed new and revolting depths of mendacity.
Obama’s birthplace, his paternity, his religion, his academic attainments, his citizenship and his loyalty to the country have all been called into question by people who feel no moral qualms about spreading fabrications and untruths. Any unfair tactic, any lie is justified in order to “take back America” from someone they refuse to accept as a legitimate president, despite the indisputable reality that he was elected by a majority of American voters in a near-landslide of electoral votes.
It is a false equivalence to say the left has been guilty of similar smears during the administrations of Republican presidents. In those past instances, all but a few Democratic elected officials shunned such slanders. The same was true for all but the most rabid liberal commentators. But most of today’s Republican leaders stay silent in the face of the lies and many eagerly repeat them, while leading conservative pundits give the endless falsehoods credence, not an honest critique.
The right wing’s eagerness to engage in deceit has distorted credible conservatism and corrupted political discourse. It has turned the Grand Old Party into a rigid and narrow ideological club that tries to purge any Republican who displays even a hint of moderation or willingness to compromise.
The ever-waffling Romney is not their perfect candidate, but, for now, that does not matter. He offers their one and only chance to drive the usurper, Obama, from the White House. That has been the right wing’s objective every minute of every day for four years, and vindication of their dishonest, un-American crusade would be the worst result of Mitt Romney’s election.