Mitt Romney, in the Republican presidential candidates debate last night, said that the reason we went to war in Iraq was that Saddam Hussein would not let weapons inspectors in.
That's right up there with Gerald Ford's gaffe, saying that "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe."
Romney's statement is manifestly not true. It is obviously not true. Did Hans Blix not exist?
It is true that the Iraqi regime was, by nature and practice, opaque. But it is also true that the inspectors got in, got access everywhere they asked to go, and that they found virtually nothing. It is also true that they wanted to continue their inspections until they could shine a light on any remaining gray areas and say with more absolute assurance, as was discovered after the invasion, that there were no weapons of mass destruction or any active programs to make any. It is also true that when the inspectors couldn't find weapons, that Colin Powell changed the rules and said it was not enough, that Saddam had to prove that they had all been destroyed. Then George Bush changed them again and said the only way to avoid war was for Saddam to abdicate, and gave him 48 hours to get out of town.
It is not only true that the inspectors got in, it is also a matter of record that it was the United States that demanded that the inspectors leave.
It was no slip of the tongue. Romney was adamant about it. He said let us not forget that if Saddam had just let them and IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) in, we would not be in this war.
More astonishing is that no one noticed and no one cared. He is one of the leaders of the pack and might actually become president.
Not one of the other candidates jumped on it. Although it was a great opportunity to show that Romney had no idea what he was talking about on the most significant issue of the day, that he had to be ignorant, or lying opportunistically, or living in a fantasy world.
Wolf Blitzer, moderating the debate didn't correct him. The so-called journalists asking questions didn't seem to notice. The CNN post debate commentators didn't mention it. The New York Times and The Washington Post, in today's stories on the debate, didn't mention it. A web search this morning didn't reveal any comments on Romney's astounding statement.
It's bad enough that Republican presidential candidates say things that are clearly and obviously, as a matter of checkable fact, not true.
What's worse is that the media is demonstrating that they are still in the bizarre fog that they have been in for at least the last six years, as things take place before their eyes and they manage, somehow, not to see them.
Will facts ever matter? Or will American politics remain a contest of bedtime stories for children?
Larry Beinhart is the author of Wag the Dog, The Librarian, and Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin. All available at nationbooks.org. Responses can be sent to email@example.com