There are those who tell the truth. There are those who distort the truth. And then there's Mitt Romney.
Every political campaign exaggerates and dissembles. This practice may not be admirable - it's surely one reason so many Americans are disenchanted with politics - but it's something we've all come to expect. Candidates claim the right to make any boast or accusation as long as there's a kernel of veracity in there somewhere.
Even by this lax standard, Romney too often fails. Not to put too fine a point on it, he lies. Quite a bit.
"Since President Obama assumed office three years ago, federal spending has accelerated at a pace without precedent in recent history," Romney claims on his campaign website. This is utterly false. The truth is that spending has slowed markedly under Obama.
An analysis published last week by MarketWatch, a financial news website owned by Dow Jones & Co., compared the yearly growth of federal spending under presidents going back to Ronald Reagan. Citing figures from the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office, MarketWatch concluded that "there has been no huge increase in spending under the current president, despite what you hear."
Quite the contrary: Spending has increased at a yearly rate of only 1.4 percent during Obama's tenure, even if you include some stimulus spending (in the 2009 fiscal year) that technically should be attributed to George W. Bush. This is by far the smallest - I repeat, smallest - increase in spending of any recent president. (The Washington Post's Fact Checker concluded the spending increase figure should have been 3.3 percent.)
In Bush's first term, by contrast, federal spending increased at an annual rate of 7.3 percent; in his second term, the annual rise averaged 8.1 percent. Reagan comes next, in terms of profligacy, followed by George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and finally Obama, the thriftiest of them all.
The MarketWatch analysis was re-analyzed by the nonpartisan watchdogs at Politifact who found it "Mostly True" - adding the qualifier because some of the restraint in spending under Obama "was fueled by demands from congressional Republicans." Duly noted, and if Romney wants to claim credit for the GOP, he's free to do so. But he's not free to say that "federal spending has accelerated" under Obama, because any way you look at it, that's a lie.
Another example: "(Obama) went around the Middle East and apologized for America," Romney said in March. "You know, instead of apologizing for America he should have stood up and said that as the president of the United States we all take credit for the greatness of this country." That's two lies for the price of one. Obama did not, in fact, go around the Middle East, or anywhere else, apologizing for America. And he did, on many occasions, trumpet American greatness and exceptionalism.
Romney offers few specifics, but the conservative Heritage Foundation published a list of "Barack Obama's Top 10 Apologies" - not one of which is an apology at all.
One alleged instance is a speech Obama gave to the Turkish parliament in 2009, in which he said the United States "is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history ...(and) still struggles with the legacies of slavery and segregation, the past treatment of Native Americans." If the folks at Heritage and at the Romney campaign don't know that this is a simple statement of fact, they really ought to get out more.
Romney does single out the following Obama statement from a 2009 interview: "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." Romney says this acknowledgment - that others might have as much national pride as we do - means Obama doesn't really believe in American exceptionalism at all.
But in the same interview, Obama went on to say he was "enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world," and to tout U.S. economic and military might as well as the nation's "exceptional" democratic values. So he should be accused of chest-thumping, not groveling.
I could go on and on, from Romney's laughable charge that Obama is guilty of "appeasement" (ask Osama bin Laden) to claims of his job-creating prowess at Bain Capital. He seems to believe voters are too dumb to discover what the facts really are - or too jaded to care.
On both counts, I disagree.
Eugene Robinson is a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and writes for The Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.