Democrats have often complained about Republicans using low blows against their candidates of choice, going back to at least John Kerry in 2004. In fact, it is a cardinal piece of the Democratic case against Republicans that Republicans are allegedly motivated by hatred for entirely personal characteristics like race or sexual orientation.
Now, however, a new report suggest that the worm has turned. Politico reports that while GOP nominee Mitt Romney has run attack ads primarily directed at President Obama’s record as president, while steering clear of attacking President Obama’s character.
President Obama, in contrast, has gone out of his way to portray Romney as a callous, out-of-touch, elitist businessman with no “economic patriotism” (to use the words of Ohio Governor Ted Strickland) and views that are either extreme or so malleable as to be meaningless:
— Obama senior adviser David Axelrod early in the campaign called Romney “a charlatan.” Senior White House adviser David Plouffe made the same hollow-man argument during the GOP primaries: “You get the sense with Mitt Romney that if he thought it was good to say the sky was green and the grass was blue to win an election, he’d say it.”
— Obama’s campaign has suggested Romney is deceitful or corrupt. Deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, highlighting inconsistencies in Romney’s explanation of his departure from Bain Capital, suggested that Romney is “misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony.” The alternative, she said, is Romney was lying to the American people. Last weekend, Cutter said that Romney and Paul Ryan think “lying is a virtue,” judging from the factual misrepresentations of the GOP convention.
— Obama’s campaign and surrogates say Romney’s business decisions and his personal finances call his patriotism into question.
Does this apparent shift from the politics of hope to what Bill Clinton himself called “the politics of personal destruction” trouble the Democratic faithful at all? Not a chance, if Markos Moulitsas from the Daily Kos is any guide:
Markos Moulitsas, the Daily Kos blogger who has reveled in the apparent success of the Democratic campaign against Romney, said there was nothing wrong with branding Romney — accurately, in his view — as an “unlikable buffoon.”
“None of what the Obama campaign is doing is false. Mitt Romney is a terrible human being, and it’s not hard to make that case with the available facts. What kind of human being tortures his dog? What kind of person has Swiss bank accounts?” Moulitsas wrote in an email. “Every presidential campaign is negative. Including 2008. (How many houses did McCain own?)”
Moulitsas should arguably be commended for his honesty, even though it doesn’t exactly help his case. Pointing out that Obama ran a negative campaign in 2008 runs strongly against the “fallen hero” narrative that many on both sides accept uncritically, and suggests that Obama was always willing to play dirty. Nevertheless, his reaction is illuminating. Moulitsas himself has been targeted by what his supporters call “Republican smear campaigns,” yet the strategy itself appears to not bother him, or President Obama’s campaign staff, one bit so long as they are the ones using it.