2012 is gonna be nasty
Mitt Romney is upset that the Obama team is planning to run a negative campaign of personal attacks against him.
Obama has remained personally popular — scoring as high as an 86 percent approval rating in the District of Columbia in a recent Gallup poll. But while he’s personally well-liked, the president’s overall approval rating is 43 percent compared to 48 percent disapproval, according to Gallup.
With that knowledge and the poor economic climate, Politico reported that the Obama campaign has no choice but to give up the 2008 campaign of "hope" and turn negative, portraying the incumbent as "principled" whereas Romney is an "opportunist."
By the way, going to a DC Poll to prove how well-liked Obama is, seems like a pretty clear case of cherry-picking your polls for a positive result. In any event, there’s more from Politico:
The dramatic and unabashedly negative turn is the product of political reality. Obama remains personally popular, but pluralities in recent polling disapprove of his handling of his job, and Americans fear the country is on the wrong track. His aides are increasingly resigned to running for reelection in a glum nation. And so the candidate who ran on “hope” in 2008 has little choice four years later but to run a slashing, personal campaign aimed at disqualifying his likeliest opponent…
“Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney,” said a prominent Democratic strategist aligned with the White House.
The onslaught would have two aspects. The first is personal: Obama’s reelection campaign will portray the public Romney as inauthentic, unprincipled and, in a word used repeatedly by Obama’s advisers in about a dozen interviews, “weird.”
Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign focused on a now-famous aphorism: "It’s the economy, stupid." It was the top theme of the campaign that carried the Arkansas governor to the White House. Skip forward 20 years, though, and the Obama administration’s campaign can rightfully be characterized with the slogan "It’s anything but the economy, stupid!" Seeking re-election with 9%+ unemployment and sub 2% GDP growth means that the economy is literally the last thing you want to discuss.
In fact, it’s difficult to figure out what, exactly, the Democrats can push as a positive result of the Obama Administration. His signature achievement, Health Care Reform, remains deeply unpopular. The debt to GDP ratio has risen to 100%—and no doubt will be higher next year. For all his talk about deficit reduction, the president hasn’t actually put forward a written plan, though he has given a number of speeches. His signature economic reform at the moment appears to be increasing taxes on "the rich", i.e., any family making more than $250,000 in household income. But beyond that is the deeper fear that the social welfare statism that has been the central tenet of the Democratic party for the last 30 years is simply unsustainable. Not only is it nearly impossible to financially justify any real expansion of social democracy in the US, it’s difficult to see how even the current levels of welfare state spending can be sustained.
For the last three decades, Republicans have made soothing mouth noises about smaller government, while in actual practice, have continued driving the car off the cliff. The main difference between them and the Democrats, is that the Republican establishment has been firm in their refusal to upshift past third gear. On most occasions, anyway. That hasn’t really been particularly helpful. Both Republicans and Democrats in the political class have embraced a set of assumptions that spending increases are baked into the budget baseline, that any reductions in that baseline increase are "cuts", and that the time for financial rectitude—if it ever came—was at some hazy point in the far future.
Sadly, we’ve learned, as Rams coach George Allen used to tell us, that the future is now.
So, now, there’s the rising threat of the TEA Party, and their explicit argument that the welfare state experiment has been a financially disastrous failure, in that, even if one were to stipulate, arguendo, that the Democratic Party’s policies accomplished everything they wished in terms of creating a compassionate society, it would still be doomed to end due to the unsupportable financial burden it imposes. But, of course, while the latter is true, the former certainly isn’t, so there’s declining enthusiasm for continuing to support expensive programs that simply don’t accomplish their stated objectives.
In such an electoral climate, what remains, in the absence of any solid record of accomplishment, growing distrust of government, and financial/economic failure, is simply the will to power. And to maintain that power, destructive personal attacks are just about the only tool left in the Obama campaign toolbox. After all, we’ve already seen the change, and, so far, it hasn’t offered much hope.
The attacks that have been launched on the TEA Party are instructive. If you can judge the quality of an opponent’s threat by the response it provokes in his enemies, then the TEA Party is enormously threatening to the entrenched political class. So far, they’ve been subjected to accusations of racism, extremist violence, been blamed for the failure of debt ceiling negotiations and the S&P downgrade of US debt, and derided as cranks and "hobbits". Nearly every political ill has been ascribed to them by the political class—Democrats and establishment Republicans alike. I can only presume that this is because the political establishment perceives them as a threat.
By the same token, any Republican candidate can now expect withering personal attacks in response to any perceived electoral threat to President Obama. It may come from the Obama Campaign. It may come from media surrogates like Tina Brown’s Newsweek, which intentionally ran a cover picture this week whose sole purpose was, apparently, to make Michelle Bachmann look like a loon. It may come from campaign surrogates like SEIU union goons to heckle and disrupt campaign rallies.
But, there’s no doubt that we’re in for a high level of personal nastiness and invective. This election is not going to be about some minor adjustment to spending, or some trifling adjustment of tax rates, or some nibbling at the edges of the regulatory state. What is at stake in the 2012 election is the continuation of a world-view; a political philosophy that sees ever-larger government as the cure to whatever ails us. This next election is the first big battle for the survival of that worldview as the majority view of the political class, or the survival of the insurgent TEA party idea that government has become to large, too intrusive, and too expensive, so therefore must be radically reduced. There is little room to compromise between these two visions of government. Indeed, in most ways, they are worldviews that are mutually exclusive. Over the next decade or so, we are going to learn which of these two views will prevail, and if the US, as presently composed, will remain a united polity.
We are now at a point where the fabric of the Republic is about to be tested as it hasn’t been since the Civil War, and this election is the first major event in that test.
It’s not going to be pretty.