Obama can’t really spin his way out of this one. He repeatedly asserted last night that Romney proposed no government aid to the failed automakers GM and Chrysler. But Romney did propose government aid to save the companies.

How did Obama find himself so deep in such a verifiable error?

Since the conventions, the most common Democratic attack on Romney was that Romney would have “Let Detroit go bankrupt.” The unmistakable implication is that Romney was ready to let GM and Chrysler go out of business, but Obama came in and saved them.

The problem is that Romney wanted a federal bailout to save the automakers, with managed bankruptcy as an element in the bailout. And Obama’s save of the automakers involved managed bankruptcy.

All along I figured this was probably a cynical and deliberate misrepresentation by Democrats. But in last night’s debate, it sure looked like Obama really believed his party’s line:

ROMNEY: I said they need – these companies need to go through a managed bankruptcy. And in that process, they can get government help and government guarantees, but they need to go through bankruptcy to get rid of excess cost and the debt burden that they’d – they’d built up.

And fortunately…


OBAMA: Governor Romney, that’s not what you said…


OBAMA: Governor Romney, you did not…

ROMNEY: You can take a look at the op-ed…


OBAMA: You did not say that you would provide government help.

Later, Obama said:

You were very clear that you would not provide, government assistance to the U.S. auto companies, even if they went through bankruptcy.

Romney was right. Obama, of course, was wrong. Romney’s “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” op-ed called for saving the company and providing government help in the form of a managed bankruptcy loan guarantees:

The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing and assure car buyers that their warranties are not at risk.

Certainly Obama and Romney had differences on the bailout. Obama gave taxpayer money to the companies before and during bankruptcy, while Romney wanted to subsidize them after bankruptcy. You can argue over the effectiveness of Romney’s proposal, but that’s not Obama’s point. Obama has been trying to paint Romney as a heartless Wall Street capitalist.

So, here’s the question: Why was Obama so self-assured and so blustery when he was so wrong in a way that is so easy to prove?

Normally, when Obama blatantly misleads, I assume it’s because he knows he can probably get away with it — whether through straight-up bias or simply deaf-dumb-blind misplaced balance that accepts a candidate’s falsehoods as “one view.” (To their credit, CNN called out this misrepresentation earlier in the month.)

But if Obama actually believed that Romney “would not provide government assistance” despite Romney’s writing very clearly, in the very article Obama has cited every day, that he would provide government assistance, how did that happen?

Here’s one guess: Obama actually have internalized the liberal trope that the Democrats always have the facts on their side.

On the other hand, maybe Obama just didn’t care that he was really wrong — because the truth makes Romney look bad. Discussing Romney’s 2008 bailout-backing could deflate the GOP base and reinforce what we already know about him: he’s a rudderless flip-flopper. As I wrote earlier this month:

This makes it harder for them to fight back against Obama’s attacks. When Obama trots out the “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” line, what is Romney to do? If he responds at all, he’s forced to play John Kerry-circa-2004, with Detroit as the new Iraq.

Maybe Obama thought he could get away with the falsehoods, because Romney would find the truth even more damaging.