But this plainly dishonest claim is at the core of Romney’s entire campaign message — it’s in every speech; it’s in every debate; it’s even in the title of his book. And the underlying point of the lie isn’t just over some routine policy dispute — Romney desperately wants Americans to question the president’s love of country. The “apology” claim is a lie, but it’s also an ugly smear.
Obviously, I agree with this, and I have been saying something similar about the “apology tour” and Romney’s part in perpetuating this lie for the last two years. Beyond the basic dishonesty of it, the frequent reliance on the “apology tour” attack tells us a lot about mainstream Republican foreign policy arguments. Obama has largely continued Bush’s national security policies, and he has not made very many departures from Bush’s foreign policy, except on Russia (where the departure has been fairly successful) and to a much lesser extent on Israel (where he has nothing to show for it). There isn’t very much that Obama has actually done abroad in the last two and a half years that clashes with what Romney thinks the U.S. ought to be doing, which is why he has to exaggerate the few differences that exist and otherwise repeat nonsense about Obama’s non-existent apologies.
When Romney started using this attack, I didn’t understand why Romney was focusing so much attention on issues related to foreign policy. Romney is notoriously bad when it comes to the substance of foreign policy, which is all the more striking given his reputation for being a quick study and technocratic, wonkish type, so it didn’t seem to make sense that he would make this one of his main critiques of the administration. Later on, I realized that this rhetoric about apologies and other conservatives’ charges that Obama didn’t believe in American exceptionalism were never meant to refer to anything that Obama had actually done. Instead, they were opportunities for the people making these charges to wrap themselves in the mantle of American nationalism, define belief in American exceptionalism in such a way that it could only apply to people who agreed with them, and to impute anti-Americanism to anyone else. The entire exercise is clearly fraudulent, but it is also one that many Republicans find quite satisfying. Romney can reconcile his habit of saying whatever people want to hear with his need to satisfy partisans during the nomination contest: who better to make an absurd falsehood into the core of his campaign than Romney? Looked at this way, Romney’s shameless willingness to say anything could be more of an advantage in securing the nomination than anyone thought possible.