I've been reluctant to comment on Mitt Romney's actions during the U.S. embassy attacks for a number of reasons, but my primary concern has been that there was simply no diplomatic way of addressing anyone who might still be giving Romney a pass.
Luckily, Rick Santorum (who I have previously characterized as the Republican id), decided to open up the conversation for me today when he told the crowd at the Values Voter Summit, "We will never have the elite, smart people on our side." Well, there's an understatement if I've ever heard one.
Santorum should be ashamed of a statement like that. He isn't, though. He's proud. He is proud because we have become a country that allows people to celebrate ignorance as an endearing, folksy form of wisdom. If anyone gets too enthusiastic about getting the facts and thinking things out, the Santorums of the Republican Party start to parrot variations on the word "elitist," as if weighing the evidence is in any way akin to turning your nose up at the less fortunate.
It should be noted before I continue that by "our side," Santorum wasn't talking about the entire conservative movement. He didn't mean the Peggy Noonans and John McCains of the world. Those aren't the people he's appealing to. The people they're trying to rally are the ones who find reality threatening. They're the same people Mitt Romney is trying to rally with his disgusting, anti-American lies. And there are a lot more of them in the Republican Party than there are Peggy Noonans and John McCains.
If you haven't been following the story, please allow me to recap the events that led up to Romney's revolting accusations:
In July, clips from a film purporting to be the work of rich American Jews were dubbed into Arabic and promoted online by Egyptian-American lawyer and Coptic Christian activist Morris Sadek. The film was later revealed to be the work of another Egyptian-American Coptic Christian, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who produced it fresh from a stay at a halfway house after a history of criminal behavior. Nakoula seemed to have tricked the cast, crew and probably even the director into believing they were making a comedy about life in the ancient world, then dubbed in dialogue that made the film a full-on attack on the Muslim prophet Mohammed. Sadek seems to have then produced and distributed a trailer for the film, which Sky News described as "designed to enrage."
It wasn't exactly South Park, Life of Brian or even Wholly Moses!, but it worked.
As film-related demonstrations became imminent on September 11, the U.S. embassy in Cairo released the following statement, hoping to diffuse the situation:
"The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims -- as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."
Apology? Not so much. Distancing the United States from the film's intent? Sure. After all, even Romney condemned the film -- and unlike the embassy, did so long after the violence that followed. I'm also not sure what kind of cowering apology to terrorists casually drops in a reference to America's "fitting response" to previous terrorist attacks, when the fitting response was two wars, Guantanamo Bay and the deaths of countless suspected terrorists.
Four hours after the embassy's condemnation, demonstrations had gone on as planned. The embassy tweeted, "This morning's condemnation (issued before protest began) still stands. As does our condemnation of unjustified breach of the Embassy." In the hours that followed, U.S. embassies in some Muslim countries were attacked. In Benghazi, four American diplomats and ten Libyan police officers were murdered.
And Mitt Romney smelled blood in the water.
He issued a statement -- initially embargoed until it was no longer September 11, then cleared to run during the crisis -- blasting the Obama administration for apologizing to and sympathizing with people who were attacking our embassies. His basis for doing so was the Cairo embassy statement.
Did Romney know that 14 people had been killed when he first told these lies? Probably not. But he knew that he was piling reprehensible lie upon reprehensible lie. At least, one hopes that he knew.
Worse still is that Romney responded to blistering criticism from both sides of the aisle by doubling down on the lies. He addressed reporters the next day and once again characterized the Cairo statement as an apology to people who had attacked Americans.
This is where I normally would begin a sentence with, "Any reasonable person..." But in this case, really, any idiot can clearly see that there was no apology, that the statement was issued before the attacks and that it didn't even come from anyone in Washington -- or even in Benghazi. Still, Mitt Romney has the nerve to stand in front of America in the middle of an ongoing crisis and falsely imply that the President of the United States is sympathizing with and apologizing to terrorists.
And there are people out there (if I had to guess, I would even say almost 40% of the population) who will believe him. Why? Because truth doesn't matter to them. Feeling like they're on the right side of a holy war does. Having pride in their ignorance does.
Over the last three decades, America has gone from being a society invested in science, progress and truth to being one invested in faith, feelings and identity politics. The driving force of that decline has been the conservative movement. Its unholy union of politics and dogma has forced us to treat an utter disregard for reality as just another viewpoint. So we have come to accept that opinions based on nothing are still worth something simply because someone has mustered the wherewithal to articulate them. We stand petrified of observing intellectual laziness when we should be shaming it.
This idea -- that it is acceptable to govern from fantasyland -- has already had devastating consequences. It has caused us to accept as plausible an economic theology that has all but obliterated the unique economic promise of America. It has caused us to reshape our environment into something that will eventually become unlivable while handing the Republican Party nomination to a man who brags that he'll do nothing about it. It has caused us to slide so far backward in time that the Vatican has more scientifically sound views on evolution than most Americans.
Mitt Romney is even hoping that we've actually become so backward a nation that we will actually appoint him our next leader.
This is hardly the first egregious whopper told by the Romney campaign, though it is by far the most disgusting. The evidence is mounting up, for those willing to see it, that Mitt Romney's campaign is staying as far away from the real world as it can possibly get. It is no coincidence that the central image of the campaign has become an argument with an empty chair. The night before that was made manifest, Paul Ryan stood on stage at the Republican National Convention and delivered so many lies in a single speech that I actually began to wonder if it was pathological. Even the relatively conservative Washington Post had a hard time finding any true criticism of Obama in his bizarre rant. This election should have been over the moment he stepped off stage. Instead, Romney's staff declared, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers." Romney has an uphill fight on his hands, but it is far from inconceivable that these lies might actually land him in the White House.
Now, I'm not saying that if you and I disagree, you are an idiot and I am not. I don't think that Peggy Noonan, John McCain, Ben Stein, John Roberts and Clint Eastwood are willfully ignorant idiots. In fact, many intelligent conservatives were repelled by Romney's actions. But those aren't the people these lies are meant to attract. And I absolutely do believe that they are members of a political movement that has made embracing idiocy its go-to strategy for rounding up votes.
More importantly, I'm saying that if we hope to survive as a species for any length of time, we have to stop coddling these people intellectually. We have to be willing not only to inform ourselves, to also call a lie a lie, call the truth the truth and, yes, call an idiot an idiot. And I'm (actually not,) sorry if this hurts your feelings, but in this particular case, Mitt Romney is lying audaciously, that's the truth, and if you can't see that, well... maybe you're an idiot.
This might all sound a bit histrionic to you. After all, "ugly politics are ugly," is hardly news and it's not as if Barack Obama has never told a lie. But I'm also not going to pretend that the number and severity of lies on all sides are equal. They're not. And, in Mitt Romney's campaign, the lies lead to a very, very dark place.
You see, Mitt Romney wouldn't be doing this if he didn't see it as an opportunity to turn that Santorum vote out by portraying Obama as weak for not... having done what exactly? What is it that people feel the U.S. should be doing, instead of defending its embassies and pursuing those who commit acts of violence against us, as Secretary Clinton clearly outlined in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack? What is an uninformed person looking for that allows Mitt Romney to get away with portraying Obama as weak in this situation?
They want to see us kill them.
The disgusting, pitiful truth behind Romney's statement is that he knew that he could accuse Obama of weakness because the ignorant, angry mob he is hoping to turn out on election day would see people from another country kill Americans, see no American bombs flying and instinctually believe that there's something wrong with that picture. Never mind the fact that this assault was most likely carried out by terrorist groups we are already essentially at war with. Never mind the fact that the Libyan government not only aided in the defense of the embassy but lost more than twice as many citizens doing so. Never mind that counter-protests against the violence have also sprung up in Libya, at tremendous risk to the brave people involved. Never mind that Mitt Romney's response, we hope, would have been exactly the same. Too many Americans look at this and see them hurting us and think that the proper response is simply to kill a lot of innocent people. On a primal level, they want America to "shoot first and aim later," as President Obama so cleverly put it. In the nuclear age, the implications of that range from unconscionable and untenable foreign policy to the end of life on this planet.
In that, Mitt Romney sees opportunity. In ignorance, in hatred, in outright stupidity and even in violence, Mitt Romney sees opportunity. I, for one, am hoping that opportunity is denied.