Obama had one strategy this campaign: character assassination. But thanks to a voter backlash, Romney’s optimism may well win the day
By KYLE SMITH
Last Updated: 4:33 AM, November 4, 2012
Posted: 8:05 PM, November 3, 2012
Watch the campaign news segment with the sound turned down. You can see what’s happening in their faces: Mitt Romney is earnest, optimistic and forward-looking. Barack Obama is sour with sarcasm, peevish, defensive and even downright angry. Nineteen-sixty John Kennedy has turned into 1974 Richard Nixon.
Whatever could be bothering this former apostle of light?
By downgrading its adulation, the country has let President Obama down, and the president, whose bizarre dislike for people was compared by one of his own aides to Bill Gates somehow achieving supremacy in the world of software without liking computers, can barely conceal his fury.
His base loves this supposedly “engaged and commanding” Obama because they’re equally inflamed about prospects that the statist train of Progress is derailing once again. But it’s hard to picture independent voters failing to notice the bitterness. “He seems to smolder with resentment,” wrote George Will, “that he must actually ask for a second term.”
When the history of Campaign 2012 is written, let it not be forgotten that Barack Obama has spent more money on character assassination than anyone at any time in the entire history of humanity. The man who once predicted that Republicans would say about him, “He’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?” has run a campaign based on exactly that level of substance. The shrinks call this “projection.”
For the most part, Obama hasn’t even tried to campaign on his actual accomplishments, because voters made it clear they didn’t think much of them at the time and haven’t changed their minds. He doesn’t mention the $800 billion of wasted stimulus, barely talks about ObamaCare and omits mention of how he ignored the recommendations of his own blue-ribbon debt-reduction commission.
He even cut the “al Qaeda on the run” line from his standard speech, because in fact al Qaeda is on the prowl and Obama would rather voters not be thinking about how terrorists on Sept. 11 attacked the US consulate all night long in Benghazi while he did nothing.
Nor, for the most part, has Obama run on Romney’s actual record, because he’d rather not encourage the fact-check mafia to mention that during the Romney governorship, the Massachusetts unemployment rate went from 5.6% to 4.7% while the budget was balanced.
Instead, Obama, whose campaign strategists have been up front about their strategy from Day One (Politico, after talking to the president’s minions, headlined its Aug. 9, 2011 story, “Obama Plan: Destroy Romney”) has deployed hundreds of millions of dollars primarily to create a fictitious Romney, a heartless jobicidal monster who hides his money in shadowy offshore accounts and is, as the infamous ad put it, “Not one of us.” A Romney ad that said the same about Obama would, of course, be racist.
Ads from the super PAC run by Obama’s former campaign secretary shamelessly and falsely blamed Romney for the death by cancer of a Kansas City woman whose husband had earlier starred in an official Obama campaign ad. Obama ads have described Romney as the “outsourcer in chief,” as though Romney were responsible for the basic economic principle that causes jobs to go to those willing to do them for the lowest wages.
Another official Obama ad asked, “Did Romney pay 10% in taxes? Five percent? Zero percent? We don’t know.” Since Romney has answered these questions in the negative, and they’re irrelevant anyway unless someone can point to something Romney did that was illegal, an equivalent attack ad from the other side might ask, “Is Barack Obama’s favorite political philosopher Karl Marx? Mao Tse-Tung? Hugo Chavez? We don’t know.” An Obama-supporting super PAC baldly stated what Obama has implied: that Romney is an “economic traitor.”
Another Obama attack ad used the kind of tactics that would shame a seventh-grader running for student council. Painting Romney as ready and willing to ban all abortions, it showed him saying, “I’d be delighted to sign that bill” but omitted the rest of the quotation: “But that’s not where we are. That’s not where America is today.”
Still another ad made it appear that Romney would “get rid of” Planned Parenthood. Romney did say this, but in context (a question about deficit reduction) he was clearly talking about the federal subsidy to Planned Parenthood, not the organization itself, which a president would not be able to put out of business anyway.
A fictional character in the ad is shown saying, “I don’t remember anyone as extreme as Mitt Romney.” Another spot claimed that because of Romney, “It’s a scary time to be a woman” and said Romney opposed abortion even in cases of rape or incest, though Romney does support those exceptions.
Obama keeps saying, “We didn’t let Detroit go bankrupt,” which is both literally false (GM and Chrysler did indeed file for chapter 11) and a misleading attempt to imply that Romney called for the auto industry to go out of business in the op-ed he wrote outlining a restructuring plan (that a New York Times editor titled, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt”). Though Romney mentioned in the piece that the government should backstop loans to auto manufacturers, a recent Obama attack ad claims he “turned his back” on the industry. And in Cleveland Obama made the absurd claim, “If Mitt Romney had been president when the auto industry was on the verge of collapse, we might not have an American auto industry today.”
Did the mudslinging work? At first. Before the first debate, Pew Research found that Romney had the highest unfavorable rating, 50%, among registered voters of any presidential candidate in the 24 years of the survey’s existence. Even George H.W. Bush had a favorable/unfavorable score of 49/46 in September 1992, on the way to nabbing 38% of the vote.
But last Monday, the same survey reported Romney had pushed his favorable rating up to 50%, with the president at a statistically equivalent 52%. Each has a 46% unfavorability score.
Against Obama’s barrage of name-calling: “traitor,” “extreme,” “not one of us,” “scary,” Romney has responded with simple number crunching. The $5 trillion Obama has added to the national debt. The unemployment rate that is still higher than it was the day Obama took office. The 23 million Americans who are un- or underemployed.
But what shines through Romney’s economic talk is an essentially sunny, optimistic, forward-looking faith in America’s ability to blossom again.
As the Des Moines Register put it in its now-famous Oct. 25 split front page featuring a scowling Obama and a jovial Romney, “OBAMA SHARPENS CRITICISM — ROMNEY EXPRESSES OPTIMISM.” The Register endorsed Obama in 2008 and now backs Romney, the first Republican presidential candidate it has supported since 1972.
In Tampa on Wednesday, Romney said, “You should know I could not be in this race if I were not an optimist. I believe in the future of this country. I know we have huge challenges, but I’m not frightened by them. I’m invigorated by the challenge. We’re going to take on these challenges. We’re going to overcome them!”
He had struck a similar tone in his disarming closing statement at the third debate, when he said, “This nation is the hope of the Earth. We’ve been blessed by having a nation that’s free and prosperous thanks to the contributions of the greatest generation. They’ve held a torch for the world to see — the torch of freedom and hope and opportunity. Now, it’s our turn to take that torch. I’m convinced we’ll do it.”
Romney was ridiculed when, in a private meeting with donors, he said, “My own view is, if we win on November 6, there will be a great deal of optimism about the future of this country. We’ll see capital come back, and we’ll see — without actually doing anything — we’ll actually get a boost in the economy.”
Economist Paul Krugman slammed this line of thinking: “Mitt Romney is optimistic about optimism,” the Nobel laureate wrote, intending the comment to sound snarky. Actually he sounded more like a Betamax tape of a frustrated Reagan detractor from 1984 who couldn’t believe that a president could be so out of touch as to believe in the American people over the Washington bureaucracy.
Romney haters frequently depict him as a man from another time, a gosh-darned clean-living family man straight out of the Eisenhower years whose only vice is a mild Brylcreem addiction. How could anyone back Chamber of Commerce Man when they could vote for a gleaming knight of social justice?
But maybe going back is the new future. On Election Day 2012, the state of the union is exhaustion — with this campaign, with this economy and with Obama hype. It’s time for a return to modesty about what government can do.
What Ronald Reagan said in 1976 is as true today as it was then: “I’m convinced that today the majority of Americans want what those first Americans wanted: a better life for themselves and their children; a minimum of government authority. Very simply, they want to be left alone in peace and safety to take care of the family by earning an honest dollar and putting away some savings. This may not sound too exciting, but there is something magnificent about it.”