The Big Lie Of The 2012 Election

Both candidates are telling the public that they can change the way Washington works. They're both setting themselves up to be the source of major disappointment.

As I type this, President Obama is speaking in Cleveland, Ohio in what the media is calling a “reboot” of his campaign’s economic message away from the bad news that it has been mired in over the past month or more. Andrew Sullivan is live-blogging the thing, and this line, specifically the part that I’ve emphasized, that stood out to me:

2.12 pm. The election is about ending the “stalemate in Washington.” Making a final choice about where we go from here. And now he starts to tell the story of middle class stress for the past three decades. “You know that. You lived it.”

Oh really?

This is something I’ve been hearing from both President Obama and Mitt Romney quite frequently recently, the idea that the election is about making a choice about what direction the country will move in starting in 2013, and moving beyond the stalemate that has epitomized Washington politics for the past half-decade or more. We heard similar messages during the 2010 mid-terms and the 2008 Presidential Election. Indeed, if one did a search I am fairly certain that you would find similar statements from political candidates going back decades or longer. If it’s not about ending the stalemate, then it was about “changing the direction” of Washington, or “cleaning it up,” or any other number of trite phrases that politicians, especially Presidential candidates, are in the habit of using in order to convince the voters that they, and only they, are the person capable of alleviating all of their frustrations about American politics.

The only problem is, it’s usually a lie.

Oh, I’m sure that when an person first runs for President they think they can do all sorts of things. Some of them even manage to accomplish something if they manage to get into office. However, as Barack Obama learned not too long after he entered the White House, the inertia of government is quite often far too powerful for a President to overcome, especially one that has no Executive experience and no experience dealing with opposition political parties like a certain young Senator from Illinois. Even among their own parties, Presidents often find rivals for power and influence in the form of Members of Congress who have been in office nearly as long as said President has been an adult, and who have their own ideas about how things should be done. It’s quite easy in those situations for whatever plans a new President had for changing the tone of Washington to die upon the rocks of political reality, which is essentially what happened to Barack Obama in the early years of his first term.

Obama’s claim, though, that this election is about “ending the stalemate in Washington” strikes me as particularly naive, assuming he actually believes it. Even if President Obama is re-elected, the odds are that Republicans will hold on to their majority in the House and are likely to gain at least one or two seats in the Senate (meaning that the Democratic majority could be as small as 51-49, and that’s assuming a Senator like Joe Manchin stays loyal). Does anyone seriously believe that this would mean the end of stalemate? Given the direction that American politics has been going, I think you’d have to be incredibly naive to believe that it would. Moreover, notwithstanding his re-election, the fact of the matter remains that President Obama would be a lame duck from the day he takes his second Oath Of Office. At some point during his Presidency, his own influence in Congress is going to be reduced significantly as both parties maneuver for another 2008 style showdown in 2016. Like most lame duck Presidents, he will likely turn his attention to areas like foreign policy where he can act, and build a legacy, without having to worry so much about cooperating with Congress.

Perhaps it’s the case that, after the 2012 election, the various factions in Washington will be able to sit down and hash out agreements about the serious issues that face us. I certainly hope that’s the case. In order for that to happen, though, we’re still going to have to go through the traditional Washington game of stalemate and “chicken” and then finally reaching a deal. Inevitably the optimism that accompanied the new term that will begin in January 2013 will wear off as the American public gets frustrated with the fact that government moves slowly (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Then, some other candidate will come along in 2015 or so and talk about how he or she is the one who can finally fix the way Washington works. And we’ll go through this all over again.

I get why President Obama and Governor Romney want to tell voters that they would be able to fix what’s wrong with Washington, but perhaps they’d be better off telling the people the truth.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Andy says:

    Doug, you’re tilting at windmills here. What Presidential campaign doesn’t distort reality? Presidents routinely promise things they cannot deliver and ending the “stalemate” is just the latest in a long an enduring line of empty campaign promises.

    Added: Is this really the “big lie” of the 2012 campaign? This is par for the course.

  2. The government is usually is where it is because it’s in a local minimum in terms of pareto efficiency. Nothing can be changed to help group A without causing equal or bigger harm to group B. So any attempt to do something immediately runs into opposition that overwhelms the supprot, and as a result nothing changes. And nothing will change unless something happens to shift that utility manifold. So when someone says the plan to cut spending on X or change the regulations on Y, the immediate question is what they think has changed that means the forces that have previously been able to block action will suddenly no longer want to.

  3. paladin says:

    Andy is right; this is just so much background noise to the public. If the Lightbringer couldn’t bring us together, there is no hope left at all.

    At least Romney could make the case that as governor he had to work with a Dem legislature in Mass, something Obama never had to do. Romney could also use his experience as a CEO to make the case he is a problem solver. However, he should be careful and mention the fact that being a CEO of a private company isn’t the same as being POTUS; you can’t fire lawmakers who don’t obey orders. lol

    We already know Obama is a failure at this, so it is absurd for him to even attempt to make the case that yes, he can.

  4. Haven’t we seen this coming strong since the budget crisis?

    We saw, and I certainly noted here, that both parties were going all-in for November ’12.

    Both parties will give no quarter until then. They will not compromise. They plan, hope, or pretend, that they’ll govern with a majority in ’13.

    If the don’t then we’ll face the hard problem, they’ll either start the sort of compromise Obama offered in ’10 and ’11, or they’ll just kick the can some more.

  5. @paladin:

    Obama offered the Grand Bargain. That was the best deal Congress was given in the last few years.

    They turned it down, for this very cycle. They turned down that bargain so that they could go all-in now.

    (For some reason Republicans now like to point to a back-room mumble on Simpson Bowles as proof that Obama should have gone with that plan specifically … but it is subterfuge. If SB works for them, then the essentially similar GB should have done as well.)

  6. paladin says:

    Sorry john, but WaPo disputes your version of the Grand Bargain; try again.

    Or better yet, admit the sad truth that our government has become the Sharks vs. the Jets.

    No winners, really, and the country is the biggest loser—unless you’re a libertarian, in which case, the less accomplished by the government, the better!

  7. john personna says:


    The WaPo manages to tell a story without telling us the story:

    Obama, nervous about how to defend the emerging agreement to his own Democratic base, upped the ante in a way that made it more difficult for Boehner — already facing long odds — to sell it to his party.

    It claims Obama “upped the ante” without telling us the specific deal modification.

    But beyond that, your look back skips the “already facing long odds” part, doesn’t it?

    My account centers on the long odds.

  8. Ron Beasley says:

    There is a second big lie. They are both either lying or delusional when they claim they can fix the economy.

  9. Lomax says:

    The Federal government, the news media, and the economy are all carefully controlled by the international one-world organization. That is why we have the two candidates that we do. No president will go against these people once they are elected. The president, most members of Congress, and the Supreme Court are all controlled.
    see: CFR, Trialateral Commission, and Bilderberg groups. They are also working through the UN (of course) and the World Bank.

  10. sam says:


    Who left the door open?

  11. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Zombieland might not be able to handle the truth.

    As far as Obama’s campaign message goes, I really don’t have a problem with it. Obviously Obama has to set up some form of straw man and attempt to knock it down. As straw mans go Congress is an easy and effective target. I would do the same thing.

    Romney hasn’t been all that shy about telling people exactly what he wants to do. Whether he actually could accomplish any of it is a different story.

    Regarding the issue of pure politics, it’s naive to think even a lame duck Obama necessarily would be powerless outside of foreign policy. What if Justice Kennedy were to retire? What if something were to happen to Scalia? In either of those events, and especially if both were to occur, and even presuming a GOP-led Senate, Obama not only would have a lot of influence he potentailly could change the legal course of the entire country for many decades to come. The flip side of that coin also is true. If Romney pulls off the upset and wins the election, and if Ginsburg steps down or passes, then Romney would have the opportunity to seat a justice who could participate in the complete or near complete abrogation of leftism as legal policy. That’s a lot of prospective power, Congressional inertia or otherwise.

  12. Ron Beasley says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Romney hasn’t been all that shy about telling people exactly what he wants to do. Whether he actually could accomplish any of it is a different story.

    So true! And once he gets into office he would probably decide he really didn’t want to do much of it. It’s actually his foreign policy that scares me more than anything. He knows nothing about it himself and most of his advisers are from the Bush administration. More “preventative” wars that aren’t paid for.

  13. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Lomax: Wow! I used to hear this line of reasoning when my parents were listening to “The 20th Century Reformation Hour (with the Reverend Doctor Carl McIntire)” back in the 50s when I was 8 or 9. I didn’t even know that this line of reasoning was still alive. Thanks for the blast from the past.

    And remember that the grand alliance between the Roman Catholic Church and the European Union will usher in the “Great Tribulation” just as soon as Barack Obama’s term in office is up and he is available to become President of the European Union (the current spin that some televangelist that my mom listens to is promoting).

  14. jan says:

    President Obama would be a lame duck from the day he takes his second Oath Of Office.

    About the only thing accomplished, if Obama is able to secure a 2nd term, is salvaging his ego that he could be reelected to a 2nd term. Otherwise, he will be able to do nothing, because he is way over his head on knowing what to do. Even some of his MSM allies are starting to disengage from his soaring rhetorical talents, separating the man’s actual abilities from his disingenuous, repetitious words. Today’s speech produces yet another dejected Obama fan:

    On the air, MSNBC’s Jonathan Alter said it was “one of the worst speeches I’ve ever heard Barack Obama make.” He refused to back down.

    People here can predict what Romney will do as President, determined by what? How they see him as MA governor, a rich person, a successful business man….but not as POTUS, because that has yet to be shown. However, others can realistically look at Obama’s 2nd term and just say, it will be the same old, same old, because he has already done the President gig, and the record shows his enormous ineptness.

  15. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: “Romney hasn’t been all that shy about telling people exactly what he wants to do. ”

    I’ve missed this part of his message (probably from being out of the country for the past 5 years). Please fill me in on the details (in keeping with the definition of “exactly”) or a site that I can to go to see this grand plan (scheme?) fleshed out. All I get in Korea is the usual “grow jobs,” “fix the tax code for the entrepreneurs,” blah, blah, blah stuff. Knowing how exactly he is going to do this would maybe even make me consider him as something beyond an empty suit.

  16. jan says:

    Even if Romney doesn’t win, he isn’t being a wuss in his campaigning, like McCain was!

    Romney campaign bus drives circles around Obama speech site honking it’s horn> I love the writing on the bus too: “Romney: Conservative businessman leader.” That’s exactly the difference between the two men: one is a conservative business leader, and the other is a community organizer, with no business experience who is attempting to lead us out of economic hard times.

  17. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @jan: And it sounds soooo much better than “Robber Baron/Greenmailer who brought Socialized Medicine to Massachusettes on his watch.” (How soon we forget.)

    Shorter, too.

  18. jan says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    It’s so cute how you put it, so partisan, but lacks in what the true scenario really was.

  19. Jeremy says:

    @jan: Actually, that’s a terrible, terrible campaign tactic that makes him look like a jerk. He shouldn’t be doing it, and you shouldn’t be cheering him on.

  20. Kinky Beats says:


    I’m looking for a place to rent and it looks like you have some space available inbetween your ears. How much do you charge per month? Utilities included?

    Do you not realize how ridiculous you sound using the “community organizer” meme in one breath and then calling him “president” in another?

    And you think Romney is being tough by going around honking a horn? WTF is wrong with you?

  21. Scott O. says:

    Romney campaign bus drives circles around Obama speech site honking Its horn. So much of what Republicans do these days strikes me as immature and this is another fine example. Not all Republicans but the most outspoken ones certainly.

  22. jan says:


    Terrible campaign tactic? Perhaps. But, it struck me as kind of humorous in what has become a pretty predictable daily back and forth set of barbs.

  23. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Scott O.: That was a bit juvenile. Sending hecklers after Axelrod the day after the Obama campaign did the same thing to Romney, though — that was justice. I guess I can chalk the bus stunt as a way of saying “if you wanna play the immature disruption game, we can play it, too — and better.” A shot across the bow, as it were — or a bit of payback with a little escalation, as a warning.

    But you wanna talk about a “Big Lie?” How about this one from June 2008. I still laugh at it.

    The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth.

  24. Huh. As you point out in this post, you’re talking about standard campaign rhetoric.

    For the “big lie of the 2012 election”, I thought you might go with “apology tour”, or “entitlement society”, or “put free enterprise on trial”, or Fannie and Freddie caused the financial crisis, or “regulatory uncertainty”, or “threw Israel under the bus”, or intentionally “doing things that are very much counter to the interest of the country”, or lying about the New START treaty, or “class warfare“, or that “very little of” federal spending goes anywhere but to bureaucrats.

  25. mattb says:

    Even if Romney doesn’t win, he isn’t being a wuss in his campaigning, like McCain was!

    I think this is a great example of the sort of “muscular conservatism” that’s infected the current conservative party. It isn’t enough to beat the person on the merits, you need to show that you’re willing to physically confront and fight the other party.

    Its another sign how this isn’t “politics” it’s “personal.”

    Granted someone can argue that this is a natural response to being “beat up” for years by the supposed MSM. Though, I think a better argument is that it’s a natural result of being told for years you are a victim of being beaten up. Anyone who listened to Right Wing Radio from 2001 to 2006 will remember the ongoing theme that despite controlling the White House and both Houses of Congress for nearly six years, the Republican party wielded no power and were the constantly victimized.*

    * – Admittedly, Democrats argued the same thing for two years (2008-10) when they were in a similar position. In part this speaks to the numerous ways that the party out of power can gum up the works in Washington. I would note however, that there has been a huge acceleration in scale of the opposition party using those tools since 2008. And again, I have little hope that should Romney win this election, we won’t see the Democrats continuing that escalation.

  26. Drew says:


    You may be correct. I obviously hope you are incorrect. But I’m with Jan, we know if Obama is re elected its more of the same. ego management. It hasn’t, and won’t, work. In fact, it will get materially worse. If we elect Romney he at least gets a shot.

    I happen to believe he has the skill set for the job and circumstances at this time in history. Obama isn’t even in the same galaxy. There is no hope with him.

  27. Moosebreath says:

    kinky beats,

    “I’m looking for a place to rent and it looks like you have some space available inbetween your ears.”

    You must be looking for some place unfurnished.