Shortly before Missouri Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin swept all the other political news off the front pages, a narrative was beginning to develop that the 2012 presidential campaign was the nastiest in recent history.
That may be true. What is not true, however, is that the blame should be apportioned equally to both sides. The ads and campaign messaging coming from Obama-Biden, Romney-Ryan, and groups affianced to either ticket have been particularly hard hitting. This is not inappropriate for a national campaign. The difference lies in what those ads have been about.
On the GOP side the ads have been about Obama's poor stewardship of the economy; his gutting of a successful, bipartisan effort at welfare reform by rendering meaningless the work requirement that is at the heart of it; the continuing unemployment crisis; and the like. These are policy issues about which their can be legitimate disagreement without straying into the realm of name-calling or inaccuracy.
On Obama's side, however, things have been quite different. The attacks on Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have been intensely personal. Romney has been accused of being "a tax cheat," of being responsible for a woman's death from cancer, of illegally sheltering income in off-shore accounts, and, it was reported Thursday, Obama supporters launched an assault on Romney's religious beliefs. Other than a sustained barrage of ads targeting Romney's economic plan, most of the nits the Democrats and their allies have chosen to pick with Romney have been nasty and targeted at the man rather than his vision for America. It's as if they are saying, "Don't think about what he wants to do. Think about who he is—and hate him. Hate him so you won't vote for him because he's not one of you."
In effect the Democrats are trying to rerun the 2008 contest, which was more a combination of a personality contest and
The X Factor
than it was a contest of ideas. Hence their need to make Romney radioactive, at least in the political sense, so the voters will not waste time trying to figure out which candidate has the better program for America.
So far few if any of the solons of political reporting have caught on to this. Or they don't want to see it. Either way, it's hard to look at the campaign and say honestly that both sides are equally responsible for how negative things have become. Differences of opinion on policy matters are one thing. Personal attacks are quite another. The American people can tell the difference, which is probably one of the reasons the race is so close and enthusiasm among Democrats is so far down while the Republican electorate is increasingly excited. Obama and his campaign consultants would do well to remember what Lincoln said about "fooling all of the people, all of the time" and start getting real.
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