By Al Kamen
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Once upon a time, politicians knew how to call out a baldfaced lie.
Teddy Roosevelt once accused an opponent of “atrociously” and wickedly” lying, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin pointed out on Tuesday’s “Morning Joe.” And Abraham Lincoln famously slapped Stephen Douglas with this insult: “I don’t know what to call you except you are a liar.”
“We’ve gotten a little more wimpy today about what is an attack,” Goodwin concluded.
Indeed, not once were the words “lie” or “liar” uttered during Monday night’s presidential debate (at least audibly; we can’t vouch for what the candidates may have muttered under their breath).
Instead, President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney attacked each for various sins of prevarication in a more gentlemanly way.
Despite the euphemisms, the message was clear. Here are snippets in which each candidate strongly suggested that his opponent was playing most fast and loose with the facts.
“I don’t concur with what the president said about my own record and the things that I’ve said. They don’t happen to be accurate.”
“You got that fact wrong.”
“Nothing could be further from the truth.”
“You’re wrong . . . “
“The math doesn’t work, but he continues to claim that he’s going to do it.”
“This has been probably the biggest whopper that’s been told during the course of this campaign. And every fact checker and every reporter who’s looked at it, Governor, has said this is not true.”
“And the fact is . . . “
“Governor Romney, that’s not what you said . . . “
“Let’s check the record.”
“The fact of the matter is . . . “
“I think anybody out there can check the record. Governor Romney, you keep on trying to, you know, airbrush history here. . . . That wasn’t true.”
“No, I am not wrong. I am not wrong.”
Maps are stupid things
Speaking of the debate, the fact checkers went wild when Mitt Romney said once again that “Syria is Iran’s . . . route to the sea.” Team Obama doubtless was elated by the geographical goof.
But at the Loop we felt disheartened, even a bit defeated. We tried so hard back in February to get Romney to stop saying that.
Iran, as most anyone knows, has direct access to waterways, we pointed out back then, with about 1,100 miles of coastline along the Gulf of Oman and the entire northern coastline of the Persian Gulf. (Remember how Iran’s always threatening to close the vital Strait of Hormuz?)
Worse yet, Iran doesn’t even share a border with Syria, so this “route to the sea” means going overland through Iraq and then Syria to get to the Mediterranean. The journey from Tehran to Damascus is about 1,000 miles.
And once the Iranians get there, they’ll find Syria has only a measly 111 miles of coastline.
In March, after Romney had said the “route to the sea” stuff five more times, Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler weighed in but didn’t think it “worthy of a Pinocchio rating — unless we create a category for weird language.”
Well, we did our best.
Seems so long ago
Even more from Boca: Former President George W. Bush, after a brief comeback to visibility in the 2012 campaign, faded once again from view in Monday night’s debate.
It appeared in last week’s second presidential debate that Bush had finally broken through the bipartisan cone of silence on the mere mention of his name.
In contrast to the first debate, where his name came up only once, Bush’s name — thanks only to a town hall question — came up a full 12 times by our quick count.
But in the third debate, Bush, who was president from 2001 to 2009, faltered, getting his name mentioned only twice.
Obama began by sticking to the no-mention agreement Monday, even using “the previous administration” — instead of noting whose administration that might have been — in discussing China’s trade shenanigans. But then he broke the pledge, saying Romney had “praised George Bush as a good economic steward and Dick Cheney as somebody who’s — who shows great wisdom and judgment.”
That’s the very first time Cheney (he was vice president of the United States from 2001 to 2009) has ever been mentioned in the presidential debates.
Romney, apparently feeling free to break the no-mention pact, then did so in a near-perfect way. Defending his “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” op-ed, Romney managed to both smack Obama for following Bush’s lead and hit Bush for starting the bailout.
“It was President Bush that wrote the first checks,” he said at the end of the debate. “I disagree with that.”
Perhaps now the 43rd president and his veep can return to relative obscurity.
We feel safer already. The United States and our pals in the Netherlands have signed a pact that will allow the U.S. military to continue exercises and other activities in the Netherlands’ Caribbean territories.
Pack your bags for Aruba! Or St. Maarten, Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, whichever picturesque destination floats your boat — they’re all covered under the new document.
The obscure-sounding “status-of-forces agreement” (the acronym is fun: SOFA) is one of many such deals that allow U.S. military troops overseas to . . . well, legally be wherever they are. Sharing a SOFA might just be one of the best ways for two countries to get close: “There are few agreements that demonstrate the closeness of diplomatic relations between countries better than a status-of-forces agreement,” Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said at the signing ceremony.
We’d like to volunteer for service in the region, which the State Department called “strategically important” (but we describe as “primo vacation destination”). Can we get an assignment sometime in January, perhaps? Meanwhile, we’re off to scour this SOFA for provisions on umbrella drinks.