With a few exceptions, Romney has maintained that Obama is a bad president who has turned to desperate tactics to try to save himself. But Romney has not made the case that Obama is a bad person, nor made a sustained critique of his morality a central feature of his campaign.And that trend toward nastiness rots from the head down in the Democratic campaign.
Obama, who first sprang to national attention with an appeal to civility, has made these kind of attacks central to his strategy. The argument, by implication from Obama and directly from his surrogates, is not merely that Romney is the wrong choice for president but that there is something fundamentally wrong with him.
To make the case, Obama and his aides have used an arsenal of techniques — personal ridicule, suggestions of ethical misdeeds and aspersions against Romney’s patriotism — that many voters and commentators claim to abhor, even as the tactics have regularly proved effective.
— 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.”Romney and Ryan are pretty relentless in their criticisms of Obama as a president, but they haven't waged those sorts of personal attacks. Perhaps because they fear that such ugliness would backfire or perhaps they have enough to criticize Obama's policies. Other Republicans have attaccked Obama personally since he first started running in 2007, but not Romney.
— 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.
Speaking Tuesday night at the convention here, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said “Mitt Romney has so little economic patriotism that even his money needs a passport. It summers on the beaches of the Cayman Islands and winters on the slopes of the Swiss Alps.”
A little later, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley pummeled Romney over his offshore funds: “Swiss bank accounts never built an American bridge. Swiss bank accounts don’t put cops on the beat or teachers in our classrooms.”
An Obama campaign ad criticizing Romney’s tenure as a “corporate CEO” who outsourced jobs concluded with the observation, “It’s just what you expect from a guy who had a Swiss bank account.”
And then there was the infamous ad from the pro-Obama group Priorities USA Action, featuring a laid-off steelworker, Joe Soptic, recounting how he lost his job and health insurance when Bain closed a factory. Years later, Soptic’s wife died and the man pins Romney with some responsibility: “I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he’s done to anyone. And furthermore, I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned.”
— Obama and his aides have portrayed Romney as a figure of ridicule, a kind of modern-day Thurston Howell III. The president mocked Romney’s use of the word “marvelous,” saying, “It’s a word you don’t often hear.” In Iowa last month, he made jeering references at three stops in a row to a story from the early ’80s about how Romney’s dog, Seamus, was put in a crate atop the car on Romney family vacations.
You might argue that, in the totality, both the Democrats and Republicans are waging nasty, negative campaigns, but remember that Barack Obama was the one who held himself to be a different sort of politician. That was his big claim to fame from 2004 on. That pose has turned out to be as phony as all the other hoopla surrounding his political career.