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The standards for 'embarrassment'

Associated Press

You've got to be kidding me.

Mitt Romney said Thursday that President Obama and his allies should be embarrassed over a controversial ad from a super-PAC supporting the president that links the death of a cancer patient to the GOP contender's tenure at Bain Capital.

"You know, in the past, when people pointed out that something was inaccurate, why, campaigns pulled the ad," Romney said on Bill Bennett's radio show. "They were embarrassed. Today, they just blast ahead. You know, the various fact-checkers look at some of these charges in the Obama ads and they say that they're wrong, and inaccurate, and yet he just keeps on running them."

Look, I know the Priorities USA Action spot is provocative. The spot, which hasn't actually aired anywhere, is borderline on the fairness scale (even if the ad's detractors haven't pointed to specific inaccuracies). I get it.

But the ad was released the same day as Romney's welfare smear, which was as dishonest a national ad you'll see in this campaign cycle or any other. Paul Waldman wrote this week, "I've been paying very, very close attention to political ads for a long time. In my former career as an academic I did a lot of research on political ads. I've watched literally every single presidential general election campaign ad ever aired since the first ones in 1952.... But I cannot recall a single presidential campaign ad in the history of American politics that lied more blatantly than this one."

Romney wants to talk about politicians who'd get "embarrassed" when "people pointed out that something was inaccurate"? He wants to talk about "the various fact-checkers"? As Greg Sargent noted, "[I]t remains puzzling that Romney would go here. After all, fact checkers have called out his ads as wrong, inaccurate, misleading or false again and again and again and again and again and again and again. If Romney pulled any of those ads, I'm not aware of it."

Ultimately, I'm having a hard time understanding how Romney's brain works. When he gets caught lying, he brazenly repeats the lie. When he runs dishonest ads, and gets called out by fact-checkers, he keeps airing them. And yet, Romney then whines in Republican media about his amazement that Democrats aren't "embarrassed" by "inaccurate" claims.

I want to understand the mindset that makes such cognitive dissonance possible, but I'm coming up empty.

Consider another example from yesterday.

"I am seeing some of the ads out there. I don't know whatever happened to a campaign of hope and change. I thought he was a new kind of politician. But instead, his campaign and the people working with him have focused almost exclusively on personal attacks."

Right. Mitt Romney has spent the last several months arguing that President Obama is a corrupt liar, who hates free enterprise and religion, and who's driven by an ideology that's "foreign to the American experience." One of Romney's chief surrogates has said the president should "learn how to be an American," and "has no idea how the American system functions," in part because "he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something."

But Obama, we're told who is "focused almost exclusively on personal attacks," despite the inconvenient reality that the president has yet to attack Romney personally in any way.

I'm not sure which thought is more disconcerting: the notion that Romney believes what he's saying (in which case he's burdened by deeply strange delusions) or he doesn't (in which case he's a profound cynic who perceives Americans are uninformed fools).

Either way, I'm left with the same question: if the president were as awful as Romney says he is, shouldn't the Republican candidate be able to stick to the facts?