When George Stephanopoulos asked Mitt Romney in a Sept. 14 "Good Morning America" interview what he's learned about President Obama as a debater, the former Massachusetts governor replied, "I think he's going to say a lot of things that aren't accurate."
If Mr. Obama's debate performance mirrors his campaign, Mr. Romney's prediction will be dead on. To get a sense of how comprehensive the president's assault on the truth has been, consider some of his false claims in recent speeches and ads.
One Obama spot says, "To pay for huge, new tax breaks for millionaires like him, Romney would have to raise taxes on the middle class: $2,000 for a family with children."
That claim has been thoroughly discredited, including by PolitiFact Virginia and editorials in this newspaper. Mr. Romney, unlike the president, is committed to cutting taxes for everyone, including the middle class.
Another ad says, "As a corporate raider, [Mr. Romney] shipped jobs to China and Mexico." In response, the Washington Post editorialized, "On just about every level, this ad is misleading, unfair and untrue." As recently as Sept. 17, Mr. Obama claimed in Ohio that Mr. Romney's "experience has been owning companies that were called 'pioneers' in the business of outsourcing jobs to countries like China." But that claim, too, is a fabrication.
There is more. An Obama ad aimed at northern Virginia women intones, "Mitt Romney opposes requiring coverage for contraception." In fact, Mr. Romney opposes the president's unprecedented assault on religious liberties—in this case, the federal government forcing religious institutions (like church-sponsored hospitals, schools and charities) to provide insurance coverage for contraception in violation of their fundamental moral values and, incidentally, the First Amendment.
Candidates always have disagreements, arguing over the meaning of events or evidence. But Mr. Obama has taken ordinary political differences beyond anything we've seen. Every day, it seems, he attempts to disqualify his opponent through deliberate and undeniable falsehoods.
This is only one side of a two-sided coin. The president can't tell the truth about his own record either.
For example, Mr. Obama said at a Univision Town Hall on Sept. 20 that his biggest failure "is we haven't gotten comprehensive immigration reform done." The president then did what is second nature to him: He pinned the blame on Republicans. The problem with this excuse is that the Democrats controlled Congress by huge margins in the first two years of his presidency—and Mr. Obama never introduced an immigration bill or even provided the framework for one.
In the same interview, Mr. Obama claimed that his Justice Department's botched "Fast and Furious" gunrunning program was "begun under the previous administration." This time it was ABC's Jake Tapper correcting the record, pointing out, "it was started in October 2009, nine months into the Obama presidency."
The most troubling recent example of Mr. Obama's serial dishonesty is his administration's effort to deny that the attack on our consulate in Benghazi was a premeditated terrorist assault, as if the truth would somehow tarnish Mr. Obama's foreign-policy credentials.
Voters expect politicians to stretch the truth. But when the offender is as persistent with mistruths, half-truths and no-truths as Mr. Obama is, voters expect the other candidate to blow the whistle. They want their leaders to show toughness and be competitive. Which brings us back to the coming Oct. 3 debate, to be followed by two others on Oct. 16 and 22.
During these widely watched events, Mr. Romney must call out the president. That is not so easy: Mr. Romney can't call Mr. Obama a liar; that's too harsh a word that would backfire. Mr. Romney must instead set the record straight in a presidential tone—firm, respectful, but not deferential. And a dash of humor is worth its weight in gold.
While Mr. Romney must point out the president's misrepresentations, he can't take on the role of fact-checker-in-chief. He should deal comprehensively with several of Mr. Obama's untruths and, having done so, dismiss the rest as more of the same.
By carefully calling into question the president's veracity, Mr. Romney will have the opportunity to provide context: Mr. Obama doesn't shoot straight because he can't defend his record and has no agenda for the future except the status quo, stay the course.
What exactly about the past four years do Americans like? And why would they want four more years like them? Mr. Obama knows how most Americans would answer these questions, which is why he is being so fast and loose with the truth. Mr. Romney's job is to shine a light on this for voters.
This article originally appeared on WSJ.com on Wednesday, September 27, 2012.