By Bob Cesca: Yesterday I wrote a column with the headline The Biggest Mitt Romney Lie (So Far). I specifically covered my ass with the parenthetical qualifier “so far” knowing that he’d one-up himself with another cynical whopper of a lie very, very soon. I had no idea it would be the same day.
To recap: over the weekend, Romney wrote on The Facebook that President Obama was trying to disenfranchise military voters in Ohio when, in fact, the president was actually trying to extend weekend early voting to all Ohio voters including members of the military. Romney flagrantly lied about the Justice Department’s lawsuit to overturn the Ohio Republican law that ended weekend voting.
No sooner could everyone scramble to debunk this nonsense, but a new Romney commercial was released on Tuesday that contained a grotesquely misleading statement. The video falsely claims the president tried to “gut” President Clinton’s welfare reform legislation from 1996.
Big-time lie. (You can watch the entire video on YouTube, but if you don’t want to torture yourself with the deluge of crackpot Rove-style lies and propaganda then stick with me here.)
The commercial narration, ostensibly approved by Romney himself, says, “On July 12th, President Obama quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. No gutting, no dropping of the work requirement. In fact, a long list of Republican governors wanted to do more than what the president and Health & Human Services has actually allowed. We’ll get back to that presently.
What did the administration do? HHS authorized state governments to experiment with new ways of expediting welfare recipients (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program) back into the workforce; specifically, as the HHS website reports, to “test alternative and innovative strategies, policies, and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families.”
Full stop. That’s all. Nothing more. Even the most bizarre left-field Orwellian use of the word “gut” wouldn’t apply here.
Furthermore, in 2005, a letter signed by 28 Republican governors requested far more extensive leeway with the program. 28 Republican governors, including conservative sacred cows like Rick Perry, Mark Sanford, Jeb Bush, Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels and Mike Huckabee, requested “increased waiver authority, allowable work activities, availability of partial work credit and the ability to coordinate state programs are all important aspects of moving recipients from welfare to work.”
And in keeping with everything we know about Mitt Romney and his ongoing strategy of attacking the president for things Romney himself once supported — yes, then-Governor Romney also signed the letter.
So no — the president hasn’t gutted welfare reform, at least if you go by the Republican standard, which was a request for considerably more leeway than anything the administration has done. Another massive Romney lie.
Are you noticing a pattern here? On various occasions, the president has acted like the grown-up in the room and acquiesced to several Republican policy demands and, again and again, the Republicans have attacked him for the policies that they themselves requested and, in some cases, invented. Do the list. The individual mandate for health insurance, cap and trade, all-of-the-above energy policy and now this.
See, the Romney campaign and GOP leadership understand the far-right Republican base. They know the base doesn’t care about (or can’t remember) anything that happened prior to January 20, 2009. They know that fact-checking will come too late. They know that right-wing voters will repeat any and all lies simply because they’re wildly desperate to get rid of the African-American liberal with the exotic non-presidential name in the White House.
Speaking of which, if you think the welfare line of attack is a racial dog-whistle, you’re goddamn right. Republicans only ever bring up perceived Democratic weakness on welfare when they’re trying to motivate the angry, resentful white base. So this particular commercial combines a whopper lie about the president’s record with some bonus Southern Strategy politics as the gravy.