Verdict is in: Obama levels more personal attacks
Barack Obama is shown rolling up his sleeves. | AP Photo
Obama ads argue that there is something fundamentally wrong with Mitt Romney. | AP Photo
By JOHN F. HARRIS and ALEXANDER BURNS | 9/6/12 4:33 AM EDT
A crabby, negative campaign that has been more about misleading and marginal controversies than the major challenges facing the country? Barack Obama and Mitt Romney can both claim parenthood of this ugly child.
But there is a particular category of the 2012 race to the low road in which the two sides are not competing on equal terms: Obama and his top campaign aides have engaged far more frequently in character attacks and personal insults than the Romney campaign.
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.
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.
The unequal distribution of personal putdowns — Obama and his team indulging in them far more frequently than Romney — has been largely obscured by two factors.
(PHOTOS: Scenes from the Democratic convention)
One is the general negativity of the campaign, buffeted by charge and countercharge on an hourly basis, in which both sides have participated with abandon.
The other is the fact that Obama, over four years, has been subjected to so many personal assaults from the right, on issues such as whether he is lying about his place of birth or the content of his college transcripts. Lost in the smoke is the fact that few of the personal assaults — as opposed to political or policy criticisms — have come from Romney or his official representatives. The Romney campaign has leveled charges — on welfare reform, for instance — that take liberties with the truth, but few attacks on Obama as a person.
The imbalance is notable in the context of recent history. For more than a generation — since Michael Dukakis got savaged in 1988 and Bill Clinton decried the “politics of personal destruction” in the 1990s — it has been woven into the self-image of many Democrats that they are victims rather than victimizers when it comes to personal attacks.
Some Democrats in 2012 say this is exactly the point, and that Obama therefore is within his rights to try to turn Romney into a figure of ridicule or even contempt in the way that George W. Bush and his campaign succeeded in doing to John Kerry in 2004.
Asked to address the personally negative nature of the campaign, Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said the Democratic convention this week represented the party’s positive vision for America.
“Americans are hearing every day at the Democratic convention about the President’s plans to move America forward by continuing to create more jobs, improve education and strengthen the middle class. And they also are learning about Mitt Romney’s plans to take us back with tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans paid for by the middle class, deep cuts to critical investments like education and commitment to letting Wall Street write its own rules again,” she said.
It is not that the Obama-led attacks on Romney’s character have been especially vicious by historical standards. But they have been both relentless and remorseless, designed to portray Romney as too flawed personally to be a viable political alternative :
Democrats change platform to add God, Jerusalem
By JOSH LEDERMAN and JULIE PACE | Associated Press – 18 mins ago
Los Angeles Mayor and Democratic Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa blows a kiss to he delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. President Barack Obama may face the voters in two months, but several Democrats are already laying the groundwork for a future White House run. Up-and-coming Democratic stars like Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, Booker and others, including Villaraigosa, are making the rounds before state delegations and at private events surrounding the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)Enlarge Photo
Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite - Los Angeles Mayor and Democratic Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa blows a kiss to he delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, …more
Los Angeles Mayor and Democratic Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa calls for a vote to amend the platform at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)Enlarge Gallery
Los Angeles Mayor and Democratic Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa calls for …
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Needled by Mitt Romney and other Republicans, Democrats hurriedly rewrote their convention platform Wednesday to add a mention of God and declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel after President Barack Obama intervened to order the changes.
The embarrassing reversal was compounded by chaos and uncertainty on the convention floor. Three times Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the convention chairman, called for a voice vote on the changes and each time the yes and no votes seemed to balance each other out. On the third attempt, Villaraigosa ruled the amendments were approved — triggering boos from many in the audience.
The episode exposed tensions on Israel within the party, put Democrats on the defensive and created a public relations spectacle as Obama arrived in the convention city to claim his party's nomination for a second term.
"There was no discussion. We didn't even see it coming. We were blindsided by it," said Noor Ul-Hasan, a Muslim delegate from Salt Lake City, who questioned whether the convention had enough of a quorum to even amend the platform.
"The majority spoke last night," said Angela Urrea, a delegate from Roy, Utah. "We shouldn't be declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."
The language in the platform — a political document — does not affect actual U.S. policy toward Israel. The administration has long said that determining Jerusalem's status is an issue that should be decided in peace talks by Israelis and Palestinians.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, welcomed the support of Democrats and Republicans alike on Israel. "Together, these party platforms reflect strong bipartisan support for the US-Israel relationship," AIPAC said.
Obama intervened directly to get the language changed both on Jerusalem and to reinstate God in the platform, according to campaign officials who insisted on anonymity to describe behind-the-scenes party negotiations. They said Obama's reaction to the omission of God from the platform was to wonder why it was removed in the first place.
The revisions came as Obama struggles to win support from white working-class voters, many of whom have strong religious beliefs, and as Republicans try to woo Jewish voters and contributors away from the Democratic Party. Republicans claimed the platform omissions suggested Obama was weak in his defense of Israel and out of touch with mainstream Americans.