A lazy lie

    For a quick tutorial on the fine art of lying, let’s check out the latest attempt to smear Barack Obama for something he never said.It all began on Tuesday, when Mitt Romney declared on the stump, “Sometimes, I just don’t think that President Obama understands America. I say that because this week – or was it last week? – he said that Americans are lazy. I don’t think that describes America.”

    The con continued yesterday. Rick Perry doubled down by releasing a new TV ad that features a video clip of Obama uttering this sentence during a weekend economic confab in Hawaii: “We’ve been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple decades.” Perry then pops up on camera to comment on the offending utterance: “Can you believe that? That’s what our president thinks is wrong with America? That Americans are lazy? That’s pathetic.”And within milliseconds, the new Republican meme went viral. The party’s senatorial candidate in New Mexico said that Obama’s “lazy” remark is proof that “he’s wrong about the American people,” the party’s senatorial candidate in Virginia announced that “Obama said that Americans have been ‘lazy’ over the last couple decades,” GOP strategists vowed to bang away at the remark for the next 13 months, and conservative websites duly sputtered their outrage (a Human Events headline: “Barack Obama’s Lazy America”).Now let’s take a deep breath and ponder the full context of what Obama actually said. The topic was foreign economic investment in America, and the challenge of bringing more bucks to these shores. In Obama’s response, I’ve italicized the utterance that Republicans are seeking to exploit.Q: “I think one related question, looking at the world from the Chinese side, is what they would characterize as impediments to investment in the United States. And so that discussion I’m sure will be part of whatever dialogue you have. And so how are you thinking about that?”Obama: “This is an issue, generally. I think it’s important to remember that the United States is still the largest recipient of foreign investment in the world. And there are a lot of things that make foreign investors see the U.S. as a great opportunity – our stability, our openness, our innovative free market culture. But we’ve been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades. We’ve kind of taken for granted – ‘well, people will want to come here’ – and we aren’t out there hungry, selling America and trying to attract new business into America. And so one of the things that my administration has done is set up something called SelectUSA that organizes all the government agencies to work with state and local governments where they’re seeking assistance from us, to go out there and make it easier for foreign investors to build a plant in the United States and put outstanding U.S. workers back to work in the United States of America. And we think that we can do much better than we’re doing right now…”Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with reality will recognize that Obama didn’t call Americans lazy. Rather, he said that the American business sector has gotten a little bit lazy about working aggressively to bring foreign investors to this country. And he prodded the business sector only after he had praised America for being “the largest recipient of foreign investment in the world,” due to “our stability, our openness, our free market culture.” And he then made it clear that he wants the business sector to more assertively “sell America” so that we can “put outstanding U.S. workers back to work in the United States of America.”So the GOP eviscerated the context, plucked one sentence, boiled it down to one word, and invoked it as evidence that The Other is indulging his un-American impulses by maligning the average American.It is a lazy lie. But I suppose it’s understandable, given the candidates’ current political missions. Romney is trying to connect with the 75 percent of Republicans who find him unpalatable, and what better way to stoke conservative juices than to lie about Obama? That tactic seems particularly important at the moment, because a former Romney health care adviser has now gone public to contend that the Massachusetts health reform law is virtually the same as Obama’s law.As for Perry, he needs to do something, anything, to reconnect with the conservative base that has cast him aside – and lying about Obama in a TV ad is a heckuva lot easier for him, and perhaps more fruitful for him, than trying to master the basics of presidential debates. (Perry went further last night on Fox News, contending that Obama “grew up in a privileged way…He never had to really work for anything.” Obama was abandoned by his biological father, and he and his mother subsisted for awhile on food stamps.)Granted, lying and politicking go together like motherhood and apple pie. Still, this particular episode is so blatant that it cried out for deconstruction. Indeed, what’s particularly striking about the lie is that it’s being circulated by a political party that routinely insists that jobless benefits should not be extended because they make Americans lazy.Amazingly, the Democrats have released a web video refuting the lie, a marked departure from their traditional practice of ceding the discourse. But Republicans are masters of repetition, and context is for sissies. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the lie is already circling the globe with the truth in fruitless pursuit. Welcome to the ’12 campaign.  ——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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