The Big Lies in Charlotte and Tampa

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Andrew Hinderaker for TIME

Paul Ryan's speech at the RNC in Tampa, FL, on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012.

Looking back at the conventions, it’s hard to avoid a fairly damning truth: they were dishonest. I’m not talking about those “pants on fire” fact checkers everyone’s arguing about. I’m talking about the grand narratives the conventions presented.

In Tampa, a weeklong celebration of Mitt Romney virtually ignored his four-year tenure as governor of Massachusetts, his only stint in elective office and the launching pad for his presidential campaign. The Republicans also largely ignored the dark side of the Bush years, including the Iraq War, once a defining issue for them, and the 2008 financial collapse. Both were treated like some terrible family tragedy that is never to be spoken of again. George W. Bush didn’t even appear in person.

(PHOTOS: Democratic National Convention 2012)

The Democrats told powerful stories about Obama’s grit and determination, like his calls to rescue Detroit and send Navy SEALs after Osama bin Laden. But those episodes are a tiny fraction of his first-term work. A visitor from Mars could have spend hours in the convention hall and left unaware of Obama’s most consequential achievement, his health care reform law. Ask Michael Grunwald how many times we heard about the stimulus, even though that $800 billion plan averted a global depression and will ripple through the economy for years. And how about that epic drama that consumed the fall of 2009 — the debate over intensifying the war in Afghanistan? It’s like it never happened.

Voters still got a decent sense of the big-picture choice at hand: higher taxes on the wealthy vs. budget cuts. More abortion rights vs. fewer. An individualistic businessman’s philosophy vs. a more collective, forgiving, activist-style worldview. But taken as a whole, the stories they heard about recent American history were selectively told to the point of outright dishonesty.

PHOTOS: Republican National Convention 2012