All political campaigns lie and mislead. We all know that, and that knowledge is “baked into the cake,” so to speak, when it comes to assessing candidates. But this week in Ohio, Mitt Romney’s campaign is conducting a fascinating experiment in political science.
Its apparent goal is to discover whether, in these cynical times, a tipping point exists at which lies become so egregious, so divorced from reality and so potentially destructive to personal lives that it actually creates a significant backlash. There’s a lot riding on the outcome.
As noted yesterday, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has already responded to one Romney ad, trying to reassure frightened Jeep employees that their jobs were not being shipped overseas to China, as the Romney campaign was trying to imply. The Romney camp responded not by pulling the ads, but by cutting a new radio ad in which the lies and economic terrorism are more blatant still.
“Barack Obama says he saved the auto industry. But for who? Ohio or China? Under President Obama, GM cut 15,000 American jobs, but they are planning to double the number of cars built in China, which means 15,000 more jobs for China. And now comes word that Chrysler is planning to build cars in, you guessed it, China.”
The message of the ad is clear: The auto rescue effort has failed, and GM is moving 15,000 jobs from the United States to China. Neither is remotely true. However, if you or your family is dependent on the auto industry to pay the mortgage or put food on the table, that kind of message is nonetheless likely to strike terror in your heart.
Which is exactly what it is supposed to do.
To date, GM has attempted to stay as far away from presidential politics as possible, fully aware that the White House is up for grabs and that it may very well find itself needing cooperation from a President Romney. But like Chrysler, GM felt forced to set the record straight, and the blunt language used by the company in its official statement was extraordinary:
“We’ve clearly entered some parallel universe during these last few days,” GM spokesman Greg Martin said. “No amount of campaign politics at its cynical worst will diminish our record of creating jobs in the U.S. and repatriating profits back to this country.”
“At this stage,” Martin said, “we’re looking at a Hubble telescope-length distances between campaign ads and reality.”
Here’s that reality: Yes, GM today employs roughly 14,000 fewer people than it did in 2008. However, most of those job losses occurred early in 2009, before the company went through restructuring. It had nothing whatsoever to do with China, and the company has in fact added thousands of jobs since the restructuring.
And yes, GM, like Chrysler, is now planning to increase production in China for sale in the Chinese market. As the Detroit Free Press points out, Chinese government regulations make it difficult to import vehicles into that huge market. If you want to sell and compete there, you have to manufacture there. Rather than a threat to U.S. jobs, the expansion of GM and Chrysler into China is actually a sign of the companies’ good financial health, because they clearly have access to the capital needed to expand.
Romney knows that. In fact, in other settings Romney has claimed to deserve credit for the very same auto bailout that he now insinuates will benefit only the Chinese auto industry, leaving U.S. workers jobless.
He’s betting that Ohio voters can be easily fooled, easily frightened and easily manipulated. That says a lot about how little respect he has for the people whom he claims to want to serve.
– Jay Bookman