In this instance, Kevin Drum’s wrong!


Calling Romney a liar: We knew if we waited long enough, Kevin Drum would be wrong.

Sure enough! In this post, we’d have to say that Drum is wrong about the L-words—liar, lie and lying.

Is Romney lying about his tax proposal? That’s what Drum says. He says he would have liked to see Obama say so last week, except it would have backfired.

We agree that it would have backfired. In part, that’s because the L-word has always been very dangerous politically. In part, it’s because it’s a bit of a stretch to say that Romney is lying.

For one thing, it was Obama, not Romney, who made the proposed cut in tax rates the centerpiece of this debate. Romney didn’t jump up and say he could cut everyone’s tax rate by twenty percent. Obama brought it up.

Here’s what Romney said in his opening statement. Do you see a twenty-percent rate cut floating around in here?
ROMNEY (10/3/12): Ann yesterday was at a rally in Denver and a woman came up to her with a baby in her arms and said, "Ann, my husband has had four jobs in three years, part-time jobs. He's lost his most recent job and we've now just lost our home. Can you help us?"

And the answer is, yes, we can help, but it's going to take a different path. Not the one we've been on, not the one the president describes as a top-down, cut taxes for the rich. That's not what I'm going to do.

My plan has five basic parts. One, get us energy independent, North American energy independent. That creates about 4 million jobs.

Number two, open up more trade, particularly in Latin America. Crack down on China, if and when they cheat.

Number three, make sure our people have the skills they need to succeed and the best schools in the world. We're far away from that now.

Number four, get to us a balanced budget.

Number five, champion small business. It's small business that creates the jobs in America, and over the last four years, small business people have decided that America may not be the place to open a new business because new business startups are down to a 30-year low.

Now, I'm concerned that the path that we're on has just been unsuccessful. The president has a view very similar to the view he had when he ran four years, that a bigger government, spending more, taxing more, regulating more—if you will, trickle-down government—would work.

That's not the right answer for America. I'll restore the vitality that gets America working again. Thank you.
None of his five basic points involved that cut in tax rates. Before that, he specifically said that a tax cut for the rich isn’t what he would do.

In truth, Romney has been smoothing back away from his specific rate-cut proposal for quite a while now. Back in February, he pulled this proposal out of his keister when he had to sound like he had a crazy tax plan, like everyone else in the GOP field.

Presumably, it was never a serious proposal—and Romney hasn’t been pushing it in the past month or so. It was Obama who brought it up last week. Romney said nothing till asked.

Drum cites William Gale, whose study showed that Romney’s plan, as originally proposed, is mathematically impossible. Romney has rejected the findings of Gale’s study. But even if you accept the study, that just means that Romney would have to say something like this:

Well, if we can’t be revenue neutral at twenty percent, we’ll have to make the rate cuts smaller. But I’m pledging again that I will not increase the deficit with my tax cut proposal.

Try to find the “lie” in there now! Because this plan has several moving parts, it’s very easy to smooth away from the notion that Romney is lying.

At the Washington Post, Matt Miller warns Joe Biden against calling Romney a liar. In our view, Miller is making very good sense, not unlike Homer’s noble Nestor, the seasoned charioteer who always gave the best advice. (Miller has been on fire in recent weeks.) In fact, we hope someone teleports Miller direct to the White House, or to wherever Biden is prepping. His proposed opening statement for Biden goes straight to the heart of the problem with Romney’s absurd campaign.

In our view, Miller does a brilliant job laying out a theme for tomorrow night. Obama had no theme at all—none. An L-theme would have been a disaster (as Drum notes).

What does Romney actually plan to do with taxes and tax rates? As with everything else this candidate has ever said, there’s simply no way of knowing.

In its original form, that tax proposal is a bit of a joke—“mathematically impossible,” as Gale said. But does that mean that Romney was or is lying? When’s the last time he specifically said what he wants to do with tax rates?

This brings us back to the role of the press corps. When Romney appeared on Meet the Press last month, David Gregory never asked him if he thought he could cut tax rates by twenty percent while keeping things revenue neutral.

Gregory is like that, of course. You mustn’t put Mitt on the spot!

That would have been an obvious question for Jim Lehrer to pose in last week's debate. But the master was busily napping. He may have been following orders!

In our view, Miller has the plan. Could someone teleport him right now?

What Romney said in his convention address: Here's what Romney said about taxes in his convention address:

"And let me make this clear. Unlike President Obama, I will not raise taxes on the middle class of America."

That was it. In focusing on Romney's cut in income tax rates, Obama may have been attacking the candidate he wants to oppose, not the one who's currently out there.


  1. Sorry, Bob, but this is plain dumbfuckery. Romney's tax cut is written in plain English on his website, while the guy has SAID so many different things so many times that what he's SAYING now no longer has meaning. He is, simply, the LEAST trustworthy politican we've seen since at least Nixon, but here you are challenging OBAMA'S statements based on things Romney has sort of intimated he might do, which things run counter to everything else he's been saying for YEARS? You are losing it, and I say this as a 10+ year fan of the Howler. Apparently Obama should only respond to things Romney says in the debate, and not bring anything else up, or else he is "risking" being called dishonest by you. To reiterate, you're losing it.

    1. Yeah, I'm a big fan of this website for pointing out my blind spots and those of the media, but you're making up a Romney that doesn't exist. Romney's tax plan is still up on his website (, it still cannot do what he claims due to, you know, math, and so he is still lying.

      Drum is right, and you are wrong.

    2. I agree, sadly. Bob has constructed a very peculiar reality for himself which increasingly relies on the concept that he's infinitely more perceptive, and above all, more morally pure than everybody else on the planet, and that his particular enemies are irredeemably and forever hopelessly dishonest and corrupt. And then he rails against "us versus them" tribal thinking.

  2. "I will not increase the deficit with my tax cut proposal." How is he going to do that and come anywhere close to a 20% across the board reduction? My crystal ball says that if Romney and Republicans take control they will cut taxes drastically for the rich (maybe eliminate capital gains entirely), and deficits will increase, assuming the economy does not spontaneously boom. If Romney is not lying, he is just throwing out meaningless nonsense, making promises which he has no intention of keeping. The point is that his "plans" and promises are totally worthless, except when it comes to tax cuts for the rich.

    Most people probably know this by now; the election will be decided on other criteria, such as the actual state of the economy in the next month.

  3. Bob, if Romney wasn't lying here, he was lying there. He claimed that Obama had nearly doubled the national debt. When you miss by 30%-40% there, I don't call you 'fuzzy', I call you a 'g.d.' liar...pardon my lack diplomacy.

    1. If your argument starts with you saying "Obama didn't double the national debt; he only increased it by 65%!" do you see a way to segue to a substantive argument for Obama? 65% seems like quite a lot to me. Not as bad as 100%, but not a good thing to draw attention to.

    2. ABL, in Bush's last year "he" increased the deficit (as we know, events and forces beyond any president's control have no effect on budget deficits or surpluses, it's all in the hands of whoever happen to be president) by, what, 200%.... The deficits during Obama's tenure have been about the same as Bush's last year, so you are distorting the truth with this 65% figure.

      AC inMA

  4. Bob, I guess everything Mitt Romney has said in the past should just be etch a sketched away! Correct?

  5. Upon reflection, Romney has hit on something here. Say so many things that are so contradictory that anything anyone says to attack you can be called a lie. Attack him for being anti-choice? He has said he's pro-life, but now he says he won't do anything about abortion, so your attacks are a lie! He's cutting taxes by 5 trillion dollars? He's now said maybe he won't do that (although it's still on his website, and what he WILL do remains a mystery), so saying he will is a lie! Vouchercare? Lie! They aren't called "vouchers," but "premium support" -- he's not for vouchers at all! Just say EVERYTHING and no one can ever attack you for ANYTHING. And Bob seems to think this works. Losing it.

  6. Bob is 100% correct as a matter of campaign strategy. Whether his numbers make sense or not -- they don't, of course -- is an argument that cannot be won, and it is a zillion miles off message: Romney believes that helping billionaires pay less taxes will make the economy go. He's wrong: wealthy people do not hire people out of the goodness of their hearts; they hire more people when they can sell what those people produce.

    It's like a battle of the experts in a court case. Romney's got his "experts," but the American public is not locked in a court room listening carefully to see which expert they think is right.

    The "L" word would be a disaster. Obama would be crucified for it, and might never recover.

  7. Bob is correct in that calling Mitt a liar could backfire and take Obama off message. Obama did have to be careful in the debate . I believe the 2nd debate is going to be very interesting and that there is now pressure on Romney to outperform Obama again which is going to be difficult. He has shown his hand and I am reminded of how the incumbent Reagan came back after a lackluster 1st debate. As for what I think Obama needs to say just refer to Clinton's convention speech. Its all in there and I don't think any pundit,blogger or expert could say it better. Chill fellow liberals. Everything is gonna be alright.

  8. "Fellow liberals" might wonder what happened to coverage on the other Presidential candidates. Oh right. They might as well not exist.

  9. til's further reflection Shows what is so devilishly difficult to tangle with. urban legend is right about the audience's perspective. Obama will have to do a lot better than 'liar, liar, pants on fire' to win over urban legend's american public.

    Matt Miller's framework in my words: Biden and Obama have to carefully, succinctly and simply frame Romney within the context of Paul Ryan's muse, Ayn Rand and the whole unredeemable essence of the 47% world view with those moochers, looters screwing the makers. The Obama campaign needs to do that on taxes, education, healthcare and the environment.

    Like Bob, I hope that Miller is teleported to Biden's debate prep - I need some encouragement that the Obama campaign gets how bad they screwed up by underestimating Romney last Wednesday.

  10. Bob is probably right that it is better not to call Romney a "liar" though that is what it is. They way to do it, as noted by some above and by Matt Miller, and as howClinton didit at the convention, is to explain how ludicrous what romney is saying, what a con man he is. show he is a liar, not call him one.

    Also, get a load of the 5 basic parts of Romney's plan. Wow!

    AC in MA

  11. I should clarify my comments earlier. I'm saying, stick to substance and how it affects the country, not whether Romney is a liar or not. He has covered himself with mealy-mouthed language on almost every issue. But that should not stop Obama from saying something that is is false, and letting the public decide whether to apply the L-word or not.

    The $716 billion is a perfect example. Especially if they bring it up again, and even if they don't now (since Romney made a big deal of it before 60 million viewers in the first debate), I would like to see both Biden and Obama take the issue head-on: "This charge that we are 'cutting Medicare' (yes, air-quotes, too), let's get this straight once and for all: it's false, period, and here is why. We are saving $716 billion in future claims by negotiating for reduced charges. We negotiated a big part of these these savings with hospitals who will now have most of their patients covered by insurance, and will have reduced costs from having to handle uninsured patients. We are using the $716 B in savings to improve Medicare: [donut hole, preventive care, extending life of trust fund]. . . . [Depending on the situation, they could take the next step: "I believe Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan know all this perfectly well . . . "]

    There is a place for walking up to the L-line when you have established the foundation for it. But I would say you never cross it. When asked if you are calling the Republican candidate(s) liars, say, "That's for others to decide. I stand by what I said and that's all I'm going to say."

  12. A somewhat related article on the overuse of the 'liar' label is at

    1. Ahh yes, another link to the echo chamber.

  13. Bob,
    "Make permanent, across-the-board 20 percent cut in marginal rates"
    That's the #1 bullet point on Romney's website today.

    Why do you say, "In truth, Romney has been smoothing back away from his specific rate-cut proposal for quite a while now."
    Or, "Presumably, it was never a serious proposal—and Romney hasn’t been pushing it in the past month or so."

    His proposal is there on his campaign website today. It will be there tomorrow, too. And right through the election. Does Romney want to highlight the specifics of his "plan" in a forum where it is going to be challenged? No, obviously not. But he is not backing away from it at all.

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