Maryann Tobin

If confusion, denial, and in some cases outright lying works to win votes, is there really anything wrong with it?

Twenty years ago the answer would have been absolute: “Yes. Lying is dishonest.” But in 2012, a pollster for Mitt Romney, Neil Newhouse, lowered the integrity bar by admitting in August that the Romney campaign strategy is not "dictated by fact-checkers.”

The Romney campaign is also being driven by confusion and omission, perhaps deliberately. By supporting every side of the same issue and omitting details, Romney can please all the people at least some of the time. The technical term for that is pandering. But Romney takes it to a new level. Complete reversal of positions or outright denial, as seen in the first presidential debate, is one of many tools in the Romney arsenal.

The Daily Kos said:

“The results of Wednesday night's first presidential debate are in and it's official: Mitt Romney won round one. He was aggressive, he was decisive, he delivered. Of course he also lied through his teeth for most of the debate.

“Romney lied:

  • When he claimed that ‘pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan.’ They're not.
  • When he said that President Obama had ‘cut Medicare by $716 billion to pay for Obamacare.’ Obama didn't.
  • When he denied proposing a $5 trillion tax cut. He did.
  • When he said President Obama had ‘added almost as much to the federal debt as all the prior presidents combined.’ Not even close.
  • When he resurrected ‘death panels.’ That was called ‘one of the biggest whoppers of the night.’
  • When he stated that half the green energy companies given stimulus funds had failed. Only if three out of nearly three dozen is half.”

Anyone who says they know exactly how Romney stands on the issues may be living in an alternate universe, because there is a mountain of videotape that proves otherwise. Even Romney doesn't know where he stands on the issues.

However, the most frightening part of using dishonesty and confusion as the basis for any campaign is what it says about the candidate. If they feel the only way to win is to lie or mislead, they are already too dishonest to be fit for office. But that doesn't mean that with enough money they still can't win.

The American people are a trusting lot. In many cases, they believe the first thing they hear on television or read on the internet. Debunking after the fact can face a challenging path, after a powerful first impression.

Psychologists and other behavioral science experts working behind the scenes are key to political campaign strategies. Analyzing how best to use emotions to stimulate a particular reaction is in every scripted word uttered on the campaign trail.

What campaign psychology also shows is that Americans have a short attention span and can change their minds during an election cycle rapidly, over a single event or series of them.

With less than a month to go before Election Day, on Nov. 6, what seems certain today could result in an unexpected outcome.

One debate can shift polls. But the first debate quickly becomes old news the minute the second debate is over.

If misrepresentation of facts, flip-flops, or lack of detail can easily be ignored by voters if glossed-over by a pretty smile, then the American people deserve whatever they get. They have been fooled before, and sadly, they are likely to be fooled over and over again if they can be convinced that facts don't matter.

If you like to write about U.S. politics and Campaign 2012, enter "The American Pundit" competition. Allvoices is awarding four $250 prizes each month between now and November. These monthly winners earn eligibility for the $5,000 grand prize, to be awarded after the November election.


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