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I have often accused the Democratic Party of consistently bringing a knife to a gun fight.  Their performance in 2010, when the Republicans unleashed the Tea Party and the Democrats were always playing defense, is but the most recent example.  However, with the release of the new "Firms" ad by the Obama campaign, which explicitly lays down the gauntlet of criticizing Romney's record at Bain just a day after he demanded an apology for such attacks, it looks like the Democrats have finally learned how to incorporate the tactics Republicans have used successfully for years.

In many ways, this presidential election is a bizarro version of the 2004 contest, when a sitting president of tenuous popularity during an uncertain time faced off against a wealthy charisma-challenged Massachusetts politician.  Despite the fact that the war in Iraq had not gone as planned, despite president Bush's atrocious performance in the first debate, and despite the fact that he had not won a majority of the popular vote the first time around, Dubya managed to win reelection.

He managed to do it for a variety of reasons, not least his campaign's successful efforts to define their opponent early in the race.  Disregarding the fact that Shrub had come from as elite a background as they get, his campaign very deftly painted Kerry as a privileged, out of touch career politician with a penchant for flip flopping.  Kerry spent the whole campaign dealing with "issues" like his windsurfing hobby and ability to speak French, preventing him from launching effective attacks of his own.

More sinisterly, ads paid for by The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth took Kerry's biggest selling point and destroyed it.  The War in Iraq dominated the 2004 election, just as the economy takes up most of the attention now.  Kerry had first achieved fame through his protests against the Vietnam War after returning from combat.  In the fevered nationalistic days of paranoia after 9/11 his courageous stand against an immoral war would interpreted as "anti-American" or undermining the United States, something that would be political poison at the height of war abroad.  Kerry decided to avoid this kryptonite by playing up his sterling record as a war hero.  He effectively dodged his political past by playing up an aspect of his personal past, or so he thought.  The Swift Boat attacks were a bunch of low-down lies, but some of those lies hit their mark, and with Kerry's main claim to being a wartime president sullied, his chances of winning were severely handicapped.

Much the same is happening to Mitt Romney right now, and he is at an even greater disadvantage because, unlike the Swift Boat ads, the accusations that Romney profited from outsourcing and has money stashed in offshore bank accounts happen to be true.  Like Kerry, Romney finds himself in a luckless position because he has to run away from his inconvenient political past.   As of yet he has not staked his appeal to voters on his record as the governor of Massachusetts because he passed a health care law there almost identical to the "Obamacare" so detested by his political base.  This has forced Romney to put all his eggs in one basket and run on his record at Bain Capital, and to make vague statements that his time as a businessman gives him the right understanding of how to run the economy.  (Much the same as how John Kerry tried to use his military experience to show that this would make him a more ideal wartime president.)  Now the Obama campaign is very successfully going after Romney's record at Bain and his predilection for Swiss bank accounts and offshore tax shelters in the Cayman Islands, taking Romney's purported strength as an experienced businessman and turning it into a major liability.  In order to survive the accusations in the "Firms" ad, Romney will have to give a fuller accounting of his business and financial record, and the revelations contained behind his curtain of secrecy may very well end up being more damning than what we already know.

However, before we celebrate the apparent recent success of the Obama campaign too much, we have to remember that every attack brings about a counter-attack.  As the aforementioned Swift Boat attacks and infamous Willie Horton ad illustrate, the conservatives have all kinds of unprincipled allies with lots of cash to spread the most scurrilous lies.  They have been more than willing to appeal to the ugliest impulses in this country, from white racial resentment to homophobia, if it means that they can win an election.  Hunker down folks, because the response to "Firms" and related attacks on Romney's record at Bain will be a doozy.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The ad is a changing of the guard.. (7+ / 0-) its as brutal as it is effective. Just hits the right visceral tone for the viewer in the American middle class who can totally relate to the displaced workers who lose their jobs to outsourcing.

    Courtesy of the Weekly Standard: "Early on, we received this missive from a bright young conservative: 'I’m watching my first GOP debate…and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!'"

    by Steve In DC on Mon Jul 16, 2012 at 08:33:39 PM PDT

  •  Kerry had plenty of time to respond to the (0+ / 0-)

    Swift Boating. His hired campaign advisers refused, and he failed to fire them and find others willing to do the actual job. The only time Progressives cheered Kerry is when he got caught on an open mike saying, "I've never dealt with such a bunch of liars in my life."

    This time, Mittens is the one with the incompetent advisers, and he doesn't even know it. Can you say, "schadenfreude"? (shah-den-froy-d'oh ^_^)

    Against McCain, it was largely sufficient for Obama to shut up and let McC and his surrogates all shoot themselves in hes foot. Obama had to make a few big speeches, particularly about race and Rev. Wright, and he had to make a few big points in the debates. What good was all of McCain's experience if he still made the wrong decisions?

    Senator McCain, this is the guy who sang, "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran," who called for the annihilation of North Korea. That I don't think is an example of "speaking softly."

    This is the person who, after we had -- we hadn't even finished Afghanistan, where he said, "Next up, Baghdad."

    So I agree that we have to speak responsibly and we have to act responsibly. And the reason Pakistan -- the popular opinion of America had diminished in Pakistan was because we were supporting a dictator, Musharraf, had given him $10 billion over seven years, and he had suspended civil liberties. We were not promoting democracy.

    This is the kind of policies [sic] that ultimately end up undermining our ability to fight the war on terrorism, and it will change when I'm president.

    But Obama did not have to tell anybody directly when Rudy Giuliani insulted them, laughing at the idea of community organizers: "What's that?" Republican Convention audience: "Ze-ro! Ze-ro!" Some of the best Republican GOTV community organizers went over to the Democrats at that very moment. Obama did not have to harp on Palin's pathetic showing on TV. After the Convention bump, McCain-Palin lost 1.5% in the polls every day for two weeks, and never recovered.

    Mittens is actually better organized than McCain was, and certainly has a boatload more money coming in. But experience, notably in California (see Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina most recently), shows that money by itself will not win a campaign. You still have to have a message to put over with that money. You still have to connect with voters.

    The Obama team is targeting ads quite effectively in battleground states, where Obama has a substantial lead overall. HHS is running ads on national TV in support of the ACA, and we hear here and there of a variety of improved outcomes, up to and including lives saved.

    We can now await Romney's tax returns, which Romney himself has publicly admitted will be fodder for opposition research. We can await Romney's VP pick. We can await yet other gaffes, which have been coming in a continuous stream. We can await yet more criticism of Romney by fellow Republicans. And we can await yet more Presidential actions following Obama's endorsement of gay marriage and the path to work permits for children of undocumented immigrants.

    We could get other unanticipated gifts at any moment. Perhaps Senator Coburn and Grover Norquist will have another set-to. Perhaps other Republicans, out of office or with upcoming retirements already announced, will show further sparks of sanity. Perhaps there will be other high-profile defections, like Jonathan Krohn.

    And perhaps Debbie Wasserman-Schultz at the DCCC really has brought along a crop of more and better Democrats for the House in the Red To Blue campaign.

    No handwringing on our side, then. This will be fun.

    Hands off my ObamaCare[TM]

    by Mokurai on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 02:40:47 PM PDT

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