Those of us who have been reporting on and discussing politics for the past few decades have come to expect rough-and-tumble campaigns. As Chicago writer Finley Peter Dunne once observed: “Politics ain’t beanbag.”
But the nature of the 2012 presidential campaign so far raises questions about how, or even whether, the eventual winner will be able to govern. The past two years could seem like a period of bipartisanship compared with the next two.
It’s only July, but the two presidential campaigns are already calling each other names. President Barack Obama’s campaign has suggested that presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney is a liar and a criminal. The Romney campaign has responded that Obama runs “dishonest” campaigns, and Romney himself has said that the president of the United States owes him an apology.
The folks in the Romney campaign aren’t exactly a bunch of shrinking violets. They showed during the fight for the GOP nomination that they were ready to take down their adversaries — first former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and then former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) — with withering attacks and overwhelming force.
“Never use a fly swatter when a sledge hammer will do” seemed to be one of the campaign’s operating principles.
During the primaries and in the race against the president, the Romney team has placed a premium on swift responses to attacks, as well as to sharp assaults on their opponents.
That said, the nature of the attacks coming from the Obama re-election campaign seems quite different from the attacks coming from their opponent.
While Romney’s campaign blasts the president’s performance, agenda and decisions, Obama’s team has largely attacked Romney personally, trying to demonize him and discredit his experience.
Yes, Obama’s operatives and strategists have criticized contradictions in the Romney record and Romney’s current positions (on health care, for example), challenged his performance as governor of Massachusetts and charged him of supporting a tax cut for millionaires. Those are standard attacks. But to a large extent, the Obama campaign has simply been trying to destroy Romney personally.
It would not be unreasonable for Democrats to respond that they are doing nothing different from what Republicans did in 2004 to then-Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry. In that race, conservatives challenged the Massachusetts lawmaker’s war record and raised questions about his character.
And Obama supporters can rightfully point to the bizarre demands, too often unchallenged by reputable figures in the GOP, for proof that the president was born in the United States.
But even if Democrats insist that their attempt to discredit Romney is merely “payback” for 2004 or for the way some of the president’s critics have treated him during the past four years, the nature of the president’s re-election campaign is troubling given Obama’s rhetoric four years ago about changing the tone of politics and given the hope that so many people had that Obama would be a different kind of politician.
Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations for the IRS, arrives for a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the investigation of the IRS' targeting of political groups. Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not testify and caused a protest from some committee members when she offered an opening statement and engaged in dialogue with members before invoking the right.
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.