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I don’t have to tell you. Politics has sunk lower than ever before. All we see from the Obama campaign are negative ads. And this despite the fact that, back in April 2008, candidate Barack Obama promised: “This is a different time. This is an extraordinary time; we’ve got to run a different kind of campaign. So we’re not going to run around doing negative ads.”
And yet, that’s exactly what he has been doing since the beginning of this 2012 campaign: running a series of ads against Mitt Romney accusing him of shipping jobs overseas while head of Bain Capital, filing false documents with the SEC and avoiding U.S. taxes by parking his money in offshore bank accounts. The Obama campaign is, without a doubt, the dirtiest presidential campaign we have ever experienced.
I don’t have to tell you that, because that’s what too many political reporters are saying today. Echoing what Karl Rove told the Wall Street Journal in a July 19 op-ed headlined “Obama Gets Down and Dirty.” Referring to Obama’s ads on Bain, the SEC and offshore tax havens, Rove harrumphed: “The attacks are more than just ‘misleading, unfair, and untrue.’ They are proof Mr. Obama isn’t up to the job and no longer worthy of the nation’s confidence.”
Dirty campaign? Puh-leeze. Sure, it would be regrettable, were it true. But it’s not even close. Anybody, pundit or politician, who calls this the dirtiest campaign ever is simply dead wrong.
First, you must admit: It’s pretty cheeky for Karl Rove, of all people, to criticize anybody else for negative campaign ads. Like his friend and mentor Lee Atwater, Rove is the master of negative campaigning. Who will ever forget the rumors circulated by the Rove-led Bush campaign in the 2000 South Carolina Republican primary that John McCain had fathered a black daughter out of wedlock? Rove’s the last man to turn around and play holier-than-thou today, scolding others for hitting below the belt.
Besides, his comments beg the real question: What is negative campaigning? The definition keeps getting broader and broader. Judging from most criticism of the Obama campaign, anything short of pure pablum – “Hello, I’m Barack Obama. I want a second term, and I ask for your vote” – is considered an attack ad, which is absurd.
Take the spots Karl Rove is so upset about, for example. True, Obama accuses Mitt Romney of being the king of exporting jobs. But the truth is, as head of Bain Capital, Romney did, indeed, shut down many American businesses and destroy, or export, thousands of jobs. That’s how he made so much money for his investors. True, Obama criticizes Romney for avoiding taxes by parking part of his great wealth offshore. But the fact is, in addition to a Swiss bank account, Romney does have tax shelters in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.
It’s also true that Obama suggested Romney may have filed false or misleading documents with the SEC. But, as reported by the Boston Globe and other publications, Romney did submit signed documents to the SEC listing him as CEO of Bain Capital through 2002, though he insisted to reporters that he left Bain in 1999.
Karl Rove should be the first to know: Telling the truth about your opponent is not a negative ad. And neither is showing the differences in the record, or policies, of competing candidates. More recent Obama campaign ads – confirmed by a new study released this week by the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture between the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute – point out that President Obama proposes a tax cut for 99 percent of Americans, those making under $250,000 a year – and Romney, by contrast, would raise taxes on the 99 percent, while cutting taxes for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.
Now, the Romney campaign may not like that narrative. They know it’s hard, if not impossible, to defend. But, still, it’s a fact. And, no matter how damaging such ads may be to Romney’s chances, informing voters of the facts is not a negative ad. Neither, by the way, are Romney campaign ads pointing out that the economy has been slower to recover than Obama originally predicted.
In the end, this presidential campaign has been spirited, but not particularly dirty. Polls this week showed President Obama ahead in key states Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The only reason Romney is complaining about Obama’s ads is that they seem to be working.