LOS ANGELES -- I once wrote, about Gerald Ford, that an honest politician is one who lies only when he has to. Ford, a pretty straight shooter, is gone now. He has been replaced by Mitt Romney the ignorant and Paul Ryan the liar.
Last week's Republican National Convention may be the last in the line going back to 1832, when President Andrew Jackson called a convention in Baltimore because he needed a plausible arena to bump his vice president, John C. Calhoun, in favor of a more compatible Martin Van Buren. It worked.
It doesn't anymore. This Republican spectacle crumpled on its last night when Clint Eastwood incoherently debated a chair. The chair won.
Although Romney and his vice presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, made competent acceptance speeches -- Romney probably the best he could deliver under pressure -- neither could withstand the most casual fact-checking. As The New York Times editorialized: "The truth, rarely heard this week in Tampa, Fla., is that the Republicans charted a course of denial and obstruction from the day Mr. Obama was inaugurated, determined to deny him a second term by denying him any achievement, no matter what the cost to the economy...."
The rhetoric for the Republican show tumbled from untruth to untruth.
One of the "whoppers," as they were called by The Washington Post, that fact-checkers had such a field day with was Ryan's attempt to blame President Obama for the shutdown of a huge General Motors plant in Ryan's hometown of Janesville, Wis. Ryan's point of reference was a visit Obama made to the plant during the 2008 campaign.
"A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant," Ryan said. "Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: 'I believe that if our government is there to support you ... this plant will be here for another hundred years.' That's what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn't last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that's how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight."
In other words, Obama promised to help those workers by keeping the plant open, but failed to deliver. This is a bald-faced lie.
As Glenn Kessler, author of the Post's Fact Checker column, has noted, Obama visited the Janesville plant in February 2008. GM announced the plant's shutdown in June 2008 -- five months before Obama was elected and seven months before he took office. Ryan should be blaming George W. Bush, not Barack Obama.
And technically, the plant isn't even closed. It's on "standby," according to GM, and can be reactivated if the demand for production rises sufficiently.
Ryan was careful with his words. He didn't specify who was president when the plant was ordered to cease production. He described it as "locked up and empty," rather than "closed." But by any reasonable standard, Ryan was being deceptive. He wanted his listeners to believe something that simply is not true.
Another supremely dishonest moment was Ryan's criticism of how Obama dealt with the Simpson-Bowles debt panel: "He created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way and then did exactly nothing."
Ryan, by the way, failed to mention that he was a member of the Simpson-Bowles commission. He also failed to mention that he was part of a minority of panel members who flatly rejected the "urgent report."
Judging by this convention, the Grand Old Party believes that Americans are too lazy or too stupid to pay attention to the fact that they are losing their democracy.