Thursday, August 09, 2012

Hope, Change, and Dirt

What a change from four years ago. Back then, the Obama campaign was mainly positive about how great their candidate was going to be. Even then there was a lot of dirty work going on in the background. Multiple slanders were spread about Sarah Palin and the Obama campaign even used the Blackberry as an example of McCain being too old and out of touch (Obama had a Blackberry, McCain did not) until it was pointed out to them that McCain could not use a Blackberry because of his injuries while a POW.

Go back another four years. There were four ads attacking Kerry's history. One of them questioned the validity of his war injuries (and was backed with reams of data). The others were based on Kerry's public record, especially his anti-war activities. These were fair game since his status as a decorated veteran was his best qualification for being president when the nation was at war. Other ads used statements such as "I was for the bill before I was against it."

The current campaign goes way beyond these examples. I have written about this before but the list has gotten longer.

First there is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's charge that Romney has not paid any taxes in the last ten years. Reid originally said that a Bain investor gave him this information. Now he says that multiple people have told him the same thing. The fact-checkers have jumped all over this one. We know that Romney paid two years taxes because he released those returns. Multiple tax experts say that, for the type of income that Romney has, there is no way that he could have zero liability. At most he might have had a loss in one year that he carried over into the next year. Since these claims are unlikely and Reid will not give any details about who gave him this information or how that person would know what was in Romney's returns, the claims have been rated false.

The reason for Reid's accusation is to force ROmney to release a decade's worth of returns. Democrats are sure that there is something that they can use against Romney but that remains speculation unless he releases the returns. Even without additional returns, the Democrats are alleging that Romney must be doing something wrong or he would not have accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands. Reid's strategy is to make up the worst reason possible why Romney has not released his returns. If Romney does not release them then that "proves" Reid's charges and if he does then the Democrats will find hard proof of something, no matter how innocuous.

Next there is the attack on Romney's tax proposal. He wants to lower the tax rates and make up the difference by eliminating many popular deductions. He has not given specifics. This is justifiable since every deduction has its defenders and, in general, the more specific a platform proposal is the less likely that it will be passed without changes (in 2008 Obama proposed a health care reform that did not include an individual mandate). Because Romney gave outcomes instead of specifics, outside organizations have announced that he cannot eliminate enough deductions to offset the rate cuts. In order to cut the top rates, taxes on lower-earners would have to be raised. Obama is calling this a "reverse Robin Hood or a Romney Hood".

The main analysis being considered comes from the Tax Policy Institute. It is officially non-partisan but, between its staff (including a former White House adviser) and its affiliations (Brookings Institute) the analysis is suspect. Other analysts have said that Romney's proposal is eminently doable.

The majority of attacks on Romney have focused on his tenure at Bain. These are the equivalent of the Swift Boat attacks that upset liberals eight years ago. Romney's strongest asset is his resume. He founded Bain and turned around numerous troubled companies then left it to save the 2002 Olympics and finally was governor of Massachusetts during a financial crisis. The Obama campaign is trying to undercurt Romney's qualifications by attacking his time at Bain. Some of these have featured people who were laid off blaming Romney for the layoff. Others talk about operations being sent to China. When it was pointed out that Romney had left Bain before these incidents occurred, the Obama campaign has suggested that he committed a felony by misrepresenting his involvement with Bain after he left to run the Olympics. President Obama was given a chance to distance himself from these accusations and refused.

In an attack that is about to run, Joe Soptic,a former steel worker accuses Romney of killing his wife. As presented in the ad, Bain bought the steel mill then closed it. After that Soptic's wife was diagnosed with cancer and died shortly afterwards. Soptic blambs Romney because his pension was underfunded and did not include health care coverage for his wife whose cancer might have been detected in time if she had health coverage.

This ad has been criticized by multiple sources. Among other things, it compresses the timeline to exaggerate Romney's involvement. Romney left Bain two years before the steel mill closed. The head of Bain when the plant closed is a major Obama supporter. The wife, who never worked for the steel mill, had her own coverage for another year under her own job. Further, the plant was in danger of closing before Bain got involved or they would never have bought it. This is just a guess but the pension was probably underfunded well before Bain got involved. Since there is no way to know if the wife would have gone to a doctor at a time that the cancer was detectable and curable, the entire premise of the ad is faulty.

The ad is so bad that the Obama campaign is trying to distance itself from it. CNN has shown that the Obama campaign has a history with Soptic. Regardless that created the ad, the super-pac Priorities USA, plans on running it in five swing states.

Why is the Obama campaign engaging in such dirty tricks? One reason is that they don't have much to run on. In the one positive ad that features President Obama, he talks about how he is going to change things in the future instead of relating his accomplishments. When a politician has to resort to attacks on a challenger instead of running on his record it shows how weak his record actually is.

Another factor is Obama himself. According to insiders, he really hated Mitt Romney on a personal level. This may be manifesting itself in the campaign as a desire to not only win but to crush Romney personally - the politics of personal destruction.

There are dangers in this course. It sets a lousy precedent for future elections. The immediate problem for Obama is that his greatest asset is his likability. Michael Medved recently wrote a column pointing out that the more likeable candidate usually wins. Until now Romney has come across as stiff. After Obama's "you didn't build that" gaff, Romney seems more relaxed and likable. At the same time, Obama is acting like a bully. The entire point of attacking Romney on a personal level was to make him unlikeable but this strategy might boomerang. The old saying is that you can't throw mud without getting dirty.

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