A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Romney’s Ridiculous Hyperbole

He predicts more change in the next 10 years than in the last 1,000. Not likely.


Summary

Romney says in a TV ad that the U.S. will see more change in the next 10 years "than in the last 10 centuries." More than since the Dark Ages? More changes than the advent of the printing press, railroads, constitutional democracy, penicillin, electricity, telecommunications and the Internet all put together? We don't think so.

A Romney spokesman said he didn't mean what he said as fact, calling the statement "a metaphor." We call it a ludicrous exaggeration.

Analysis

Romney announced the 30-second spot Jan. 1 and said it would run in New Hampshire.

 [TET ]

Romney for President Ad: "Vote For Tomorrow"

Romney: No one votes for yesterday. We vote for tomorrow. Every election is about the future.
Many are pessimistic. I'm not.
In the next 10 years, we'll see more progress, more change than the world has seen in the last 10 centuries.
Our next president must unleash the promise and innovation of the American people.
I'm ready for that challenge. The future begins now.
I'm Mitt Romney and I not only approve this message, I'm asking for your vote.[/TET]

1,000 Years of Progress?

The ad features Romney talking straight to the camera, exuding confidence and optimism and saying "I'm ready" to "unleash the promise and innovation of the American people." We have no quarrel with that; any candidate is entitled to lay out goals.

But Romney goes over the top when he predicts that "in the next 10 years, we'll see more progress, more change than the world has seen in the last 10 centuries."

Lacking a crystal ball or time machine, we can't predict the future. But based on available evidence we judge Romney's claim to be so far beyond the usual bounds of campaign exaggeration as to be worthy of ridicule.

Consider that 10 centuries ago, in the year 1008, Europe was just starting to emerge from the Dark Ages and Ethelred the Unready was on the throne of England trying to stave off raids by Danish Vikings.

What follows is a very short list of just some of the major changes that have happened since. Readers may decide for themselves how likely we are to see more changes than all these combined during the next decade.

1095 – Pope Urban II preaches a sermon urging Christians to "arm for the rescue of Jerusalem" from Muslims, leading to the first Crusade.

1215 – King John signs the Magna Carta, the first step toward modern constitutional democracy.

1455 – Johann Gutenberg prints 160 or more identical copies of the Bible, the first mass-produced book.

1492Columbus sails to the New World.

1543 – Nicolaus Copernicus, arguably the initiator of the Scientific Revolution,  publishes "On the Revolutions," proposing that the Earth is not the center of the universe but revolves about the sun.

1844 – Samuel F.B. Morse sends the words "What hath God wrought?" between  Washington, D.C., and Baltimore on the first inter-city telegraph, initiating the Information Age.

1928 – Scottish physician Alexander Fleming discovered a mold that destroyed bacteria, leading to the development of penicillin and treatment of previously incurable infections, prolonging millions of lives.

1928Sliced bread is mass-produced for the first time.

We could go on: the cotton gin, the automobile, electric lighting, manned flight, the microwave oven, the World Wide Web … you get the idea.

"A Metaphor?"

Romney spokesman Matt Rhoades said the candidate didn't mean what he said as a statement of fact. "It's a metaphor about the future," Rhoades told FactCheck.org. "Governor Romney is optimistic that our nation's best days are ahead of us and with that comes great progress and change. Perhaps, the greatest progress and change our nation has ever seen."

We don't dispute that the country's best days may lie ahead, or that "perhaps" unprecedented progress can be made in the next decade. But that's not the way Romney put it. And it's incorrect to call what he said a "metaphor," which is a figure of speech in which one thing is said to be another, such as "Life is a bowl of cherries." It would be more accurate to call it an absurd overstatement.

– by Brooks Jackson

Sources

"Magna Carta." U.S. National Archives & Records Administration, undated, accessed 1 Jan. 2008.

British Library. "Johann Gutenberg's 42-line Bible," accessed 1 Jan. 2008.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. "Nicholas Copernicus," 18 Apr. 2005.

"Information Age: People, Information & Technology." The Smithsonian Institution, accessed 1 Jan. 2008.

"Sir Alexander Fleming." Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1942-1962. Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1964 (Posted on Nobelprize.org and accessed 1 Jan. 2008.)

Ripley, Catherine Stortz. "A 'Slice' of History: Inventor's Son Returns to Where Sliced Bread Began." Chillicothe Constitution Tribune, 21 Aug. 2003.