Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The new narrative: Obama's negative campaign is not new

Name-calling. Unsupported accusations. Relentless demands for personal information. A refusal to condemn the outrageous actions of fellow Democrats. This is the Obama Campaign, the 2012 Edition.

On October 27, 2008--one week before the election--Obama made a speech in Canton, Ohio. In it, he talked about the things that differentiated his vision from that of Senator John McCain. But he also talked about the nature of leadership, the kind of politics he would champion. Some highlights:
In one week, you can put an end to the politics that would divide a nation just to win an election; that tries to pit region against region, city against town, Republican against Democrat; that asks us to fear at a time when we need hope...

But as I've said from the day we began this journey all those months ago, the change we need isn't just about new programs and policies. It's about a new politics - a politics that calls on our better angels instead of encouraging our worst instincts; one that reminds us of the obligations we have to ourselves and one another...

In this election, we cannot afford the same political games and tactics that are being used to pit us against one another and make us afraid of one another. The stakes are too high to divide us by class and region and background; by who we are or what we believe.
Striking, isn't it? Candidate Obama is basically criticizing the entire election playbook of President Obama. All of the things Obama promised to change are now a part of his modus operandi. Such is the way of politics, though. At the end of the day, gaining or holding on to power tends to trump everything else. The attack-dog mentality of the Obama Campaign shouldn't surprise us, we should have expected it always. Still, it represents an all-too-obvious descent from the high-minded rhetoric we have been treated to for the past four-plus years (going back to when Obama began his campaign in 2007).

The signs were there all along, of course. From publicly ridiculing everyday citizens, to tsk-tsking the Supreme Court during a State of the Union speech to engaging in class warfare at the drop of a hat. The Great Man we were promised is now nothing more than a typical politician, more than willing to do and say anything to get re-elected.

It is, however, pointless to dwell too much on Obama's descent into the gutter. Even now, his sycophants in the media are cleverly fashioning a new narrative (likely at the direction of Axelrod and company). Look at this piece from Eric Boehlert of Media Matters, whom I've mentioned before. In it, he asks the following questions:
But is the claim [about the negative tenor of the campaign] accurate? Is the Democrat really running some sort of guttural, ruthlessly negative campaign? Is it far and way more negative than his opponent's effort? And is the tone of Obama's 2012 campaign completely different from his 2008 run for election, as the press insists?
Boehlert--unsurprisingly--answers his own questions all with a resounding "no." According to him, the campaign is not all that negative. it's certainly not terribly negative, it's no more negative than Romney's, and it's no different than the 2008 Obama Campaign in this regard. Note the obvious inconsistencies: Boehlert allows that the Campaign has been negative and that the 2008 Campaign was negative, but still wants to insist it's not particularly negative and certainly not "ruthlessly" negative.

As evidence, Boehlert has nothing more than raw numbers that show how many negative and positive ads have been run, both in this campaign and in 2008.

Content--in Mr. Boehlert's world--apparently doesn't matter. One negative ad is qualitatively the same as another. Thus, a Romney ad criticizing the failed Stimulus policies of Obama is no different than an Obama ad suggesting that Romney was personally responsible for a woman's death from cancer. And Boehlert completely ignores comments from the candidates and their mouthpieces. For instance, have any senior members of Romney's campaign publicly accused Obama of being a felon? No. And what's worse, the Campaign--in the form of Axelrod--defended the accusation against Romney (made by Stephanie Cutter).

Still, the attempt by the Obama Campaign to refashion the narrative on all of this--through surrogates like Boehlert--is fascinating. The new narrative essentially allows that Obama--contrary to his public statements--was always running something of a negative campaign in 2008, thus complaints that his current campaign is more negative are not valid. Will it work? I guess it depends how stupid the American public is prepared to be.

Cheers, all.

1 comment:

  1. Well, to be perfectly honest, he was running a somewhat negative campaign in 2008. The divisive rhetoric was there. The blaiming all on Bush was there etc (remember how in one of the debates McCain responded that if Obama wanted to run against Bush he should have done it four years ago?). I even predicted the descent into divisiveness on AW.
    But you are right in the gist of it. The emphasis is completely different. There were no personal pot-shots. No attacks claiming that because Romney had Swiss acounts he is the problem (and definitely no baseless accusations of causing someone's death).

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