The Obama campaign beclowned itself this morning on a conference call attacking Mitt Romney's "dishonesty on abortion," in an attempt to stop Romney's effort "to close the deal" (in the words of Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter). Not content to point out possible contradictions in Romney's statements, the campaign flat-out lied about his position, using attacks that have been discredited even by Obama-friendly fact-checkers.
Cutter cited an Associated Press story about Romney's interview with the Des Moines Register in which the AP reported him as saying that "he would not pursue any abortion-related legislation if elected president."
During the interview, Romney was asked: "Do you intend to pursue any specific legislation with regard to abortion?" His answer--"There's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda"--suggests current, pending legislation. Romney went on to describe his intention to reinstate the Mexico City policy banning foreign aid for organizations that provide abortions abroad.
As the Romney campaign later clarified, the Republican nominee would sign some pro-life legislation. His campaign website indicates that he supports ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood, for example, which provides abortion services, though the organization claims it does not use that funding for abortions.
Yet the Obama campaign had continued to exaggerate Romney's position. On this morning's call, it produced Cecile Richard of Planned Parenthood to verify the claim that Romney wants to "end Planned Parenthood."
Richards also attempted to connect Romney with legislation in Congress that he has not, in fact, supported. For example, she pointed to a bill establishing "personhood" from conception. In fact, Romney has come under fire from pro-life groups for not signing a personhood pledge and supporting abortion in cases of rape.
Ironically, the context of the abortion question during the Des Moines Register interview was Romney's answer to a previous question, in which he had been asked to explain why his poll numbers had improved among women.
Romney said that it was likely because voters were learning about his real positions, as opposed to those falsely attributed to him by Obama. He singled out false attack ads that suggest he would oppose abortion in the case of rape, incest and if the life of the mother were at risk.
On the conference call, the Obama campaign also highlighted Romney's opposition to the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade--a decision that could not be overturned by ordinary legislation in any case.
The mainstream media are amplifying the AP story--which is, essentially, about a non-event. Romney said he was not familiar with legislation that he would support, and then promptly named a pro-life policy that he would enact through his executive authority.
At worst, Romney gave a partial answer. The Obama campaign, understandably (given its circumstances), is trying to amplify that answer into a major debacle.
The mainstream media are playing along. It was telling that no reporters bothered to challenge the numerous lies and misrepresentations by Cutter and Richard, which were reported verbatim. Instead, they were eager to hear about how this issue might set the stage for tomorrow night's vice presidential debate.
Unable to run on economic policy--and even foreign policy--the Obama campaign is now reaching for social issues, and the media are spoiling for a culture-war fight. Will the moderator, Martha Raddatz, comply?