By Teresa Welsh |
As the saying goes, politics ain't bean bag. The notion that campaigns, especially those for president, consist of two candidates discussing the great issues of the day in all their intricate details while hardly raising their voices or going after one another is, and always has been, pure fantasy. These political battles have always been fierce fights from the very early days of our republic.
Witness the latest period of the Republican primaries when former Gov. Mitt Romney and his surrogate super PACs aired almost exclusively negative ads—against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Gov. Rick Perry, and finally, former Sen. Rick Santorum. Those candidates, with much more limited resources, attempted to do the same against Romney. At the end of the day, this was a very tough primary race with Romney using his financial advantage to bury his opponents in negative advertising.
So those who would charge that somehow President Obama's campaign is being too negative towards Romney are either living in a dream world or engaging in radical hyperbole in an effort to, in fact, attack Obama.
There are several points about this year's campaign that deserve exploring.
First and foremost, it has started earlier and with more velocity than any presidential campaign in history. There is no waiting until the conventions; there is no hitting the pause button after a candidate is nominated; there is no waiting until after Labor Day to begin the "fall campaign." We are already in the thick of it.
Second, the amount of money being spent this year dwarfs anything we have ever seen. Despite a tough economy people still seem to have plenty of excess cash to donate to the presidential race.
Third, the Citizens United case has allowed millionaires and billionaires to write seven- and eight-figure checks to provide the fuel for attack ads—with the overwhelming amount going to the Republicans in support of Mitt Romney. The estimate is that Romney will have a billion dollars in outside money alone to fund anti-Obama ads, over and above what he is raising.
Finally, the stakes are very high this year. We have two candidates with vastly different political philosophies and approaches to government running for the highest office. We have a Republican Party taken over by the most radically conservative elements we have seen in several lifetimes. There could not be a wider disparity in how to fix the economy coming from these two parties. The rhetoric is heightened, the polarization has hardened, the fervor on both sides is at a fever pitch.
For Obama to not engage in the battle, to focus on soft, fuzzy, feel-good ads would be a drastic mistake. The Romney team does not want the campaign to be a comparison of the two candidates and their records and approaches; they want it to be a simple referendum. They would simply like to avoid making this a choice between two candidates. That is why they prefer to be on the attack from the start.
Romney's blackboard is far from filled up. As president for 3 1/2years, most Americans know a great deal about Barack Obama. Most independents and undecided voters, most voters who have not truly focused on politics and the November elections, know very little about Mitt Romney.
It is up to the Obama campaign to make it clear what Romney did and did not do at Bain Capital—he made money, and lots of it; he did not engage in a job creation enterprise. He availed himself of foreign tax shelters in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands to avoid U.S. taxes. He used tax loopholes to enrich himself and his friends with the carried interest deduction. This is all fair game. This is a far different "business" record than Mitt Romney would like voters to be examining.
It is up to the Obama campaign to compare and contrast their tax and budget policies with Romney, who seems to favor $5 trillion more in tax cuts, mostly to the wealthy, adding to the deficit. Making the Bush tax cuts permanent and lowering the top tax rate for millionaires and billionaires even further won't trickle down—they will exacerbate our budget problems and have a reverse-Robin Hood effect.
It is up to the Obama campaign to provide a real analysis of who will help and fight for middle class families, those who are hurting from the Wall Street meltdown, and which policies will further drive the middle class down. Romney has to offer more than bromides to explain the Ryan budget and the cuts to Medicare, education, Head Start, student loans, infrastructure revitalization, foreclosure relief, and on and on.
It is up to the Obama campaign to make it clear where our domestic auto industry would be if Romney's advice of not providing loan guarantees had prevailed. By letting them go bankrupt, America would have very possibly been put into a true depression.
So, my belief is that the Obama campaign is not too negative at all—certainly not when compared to the Romney operation. In fact, there are a lot more issues to discuss, a lot more of Romney's record in Massachusetts to focus on, a lot more positions on issues to explore. The more the Obama campaign turns up the power on the microscope, the better for a reasoned and reliable judgment by the voters.
The notion that the press or the pundits will do your work for you when it comes to providing the compare-and-contrast elements of a campaign is long out the window.
The Romney team learned that lesson in the primary, now it is the Obama campaign's turn.
About Peter Fenn Democratic Political Strategist and Head of Fenn Communications
Ford O'Connell Republican Strategist, Conservative Activist, and Political Analyst
Reince Priebus Chairman of the Republican National Committee
Brad Bannon President of Bannon Communications Research
Mark Mellman CEO of The Mellman Group