So Much For The “Big Picture” Election
Yesterday it became clear that the Presidential campaign is headed into the mud.
When Paul Ryan entered the race on Saturday as Mitt Romney’s running mate on Saturday, we were told that we were now moving into a “big picture” election where the candidates would be discussing serious issues like the role of government, entitlements, and America’s ongoing fiscal problems. Whether or not that’s what the voters want, though, it sure sounded better than what we’ve seen in the race for the previous month or so, which was dominated by things like an ad saying Mitt Romney killed a lady, Harry Reid claiming to have secret knowledge of Mitt Romney’s tax returns, and the President and his challenger trading terms like “Romney Hood” and “Obamaloney.” The prospect of a more serious campaign was something that seemed to appeal to many people. Inevitably, though, we’ve quickly gotten back to the nonsense, with yesterday being perhaps one of the nastiest days on the campaign trail, on both sides, to date.
It started with a speech by Vice-President Biden in southern Virginia, which drew a quick rebuke from the Romney campaign:
(CBS News) DANVILLE, Va. — Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday told a diverse crowd here, including many African-Americans, that presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney would “put you all back in chains” by unshackling Wall Street.
Biden told more than 800 ticketed supporters that Romney wants to repeal the financial regulations enacted after the Wall Street crash of 2008. “He’s going to let the big banks once again write their own rules – unchain Wall Street!” Biden said. Then he added, “They’re going to put you all back in chains” with their economic and regulatory policies.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said Biden’s comments “are not acceptable in our political discourse and demonstrate yet again that the Obama campaign will say and do anything to win this election. President Obama should tell the American people whether he agrees with Joe Biden’s comments.”
Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager of the Obama campaign, called Saul’s statement “faux outrage. She said on MSNBC that Biden was “using a metaphor to talk about what’s going to happen” if Romney is elected and financial reform is repealed. and “we have no problem with those comments” in their full context.
The Obama campaign later put out a statement that said Biden’s comment was a variation on comments Republicans have made about unshackling the private sector, and his own frequent references to the need to unshackle the middle class. “Today’s comments were a derivative of those remarks, describing the devastating impact letting Wall Street write its own rules again would have on middle class families,” the campaign said.
Here’s the video of Biden’s remarks:
Biden spoke again about the remarks later in the day, but it was the original remarks in Danville that really evoked the ire of the Romney campaign and many on the right. Rudy Giuliani, for example, took the opportunity to question Biden’s mental fitness to hold office. Sarah Palin said that the comments should be reason for Obama to boot Obama off the Democratic ticket. Now, both of these comments are patently ridiculous. It’s been a favorite meme on the right to ridicule the Vice-President’s intelligence and put forward the, largely false, argument that he is a political liability for the President. Despite the fact, though, that Joe Biden, has a proclivity to speak without thinking at times and may well be the King of Gaffes at the moment, much of that rhetoric is overblown and Giuliani and Pain are being patently ridiculous. At the same time, though, Biden’s rhetoric was ugly and over the top, as Paul Mirengoff puts it:
To be sure, the king of saying “literally” wasn’t speaking literally. Even at his most wound up, Clueless Joe doesn’t believe that Republicans want to enslave African-Americans. Biden was just using a figure of speech. But it was an extremely distasteful one in any context, and amounts to playing the race card when delivered to a black audience.
So once the Romney campaign called Biden on his gaffe, the vice president should, at a minimum, have said that, of course he doesn’t think Republicans will put anyone in chains but that their policies will work to the significant disadvantage of the middle class, the poor, etc. That is, of course, unless Biden didn’t commit a gaffe, but rather intended to play the race card.
Is that last part true? I’ll leave that for the individual to judge, but the fact that he was talking about “chains” in front of an African-American audience surely could not have been a coincidence.
Meanwhile, out in Iowa President Obama slipped references to Romney putting the family dog Seamus on the roof of the family car during one vacation road trip into his stump speech, and Mitt Romney took the opportunity to rip into the President for what he claimed was a campaign meant to divide the country:
Mitt Romney used a tough new campaign speech to personally blast the Obama campaign on Tuesday, saying comments earlier in the day from Vice President Biden are “what an angry and desperate presidency looks like.”
“Mr. President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago,” Romney said while campaigning in Ohio.
Romney was responding to Biden’s suggestion that the GOP ticket’s economic policies would “put y’all back in chains.”
Romney repeatedly and harshly criticized Team Obama for the remarks.
“His campaign and his surrogates have made wild and reckless accusations that disgrace the office of the presidency. Another outrageous charge came a few hours ago in Virginia. And the White House sinks a little bit lower,” Romney said.
“This is an election in which we should be talking about the path ahead, but you don’t hear any answers coming from President Obama’s reelection campaign. That’s because he’s intellectually exhausted, out of ideas and out of energy. And so his campaign has resorted to diversions and distractions, to demagoguing and defaming others. This is an old game in politics; what’s different this year is that the president is taking things to a new low.”
Romney’s remarks echo those of his campaign spokeswoman, who earlier in the day characterized Biden’s remarks as representing a “new low.”
Ben Smith comments on how the campaign went so far off course yesterday:
[T]he campaign has reached its ugliest, most fevered moment. President Obama himself invoked an old story about Romney strapping a dog to the roof of his car. The Chairman of the Republican National Committee shot back with a jibe about Obama having eaten dog as a schoolboy in Indonesia. Biden suggested that Republicans want to put voters back “in chains.” Romney demanded Obama takes his campaign of “division and anger and hate back to Chicago.” Obama’s spokesman called him “unhinged.” The atmosphere bristled with conflict, Twitter spilled over with gleeful vitriol, and the campaign reached the sort of fevered political moment when it feels like anything can happen.
But if we didn’t predict this moment, we should have. The logic of President Obama’s campaign has always been, as a prominent Democratic strategist aligned with the White House told me this time last year, that “unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney.”
Romney’s strategy had been different: To simply stay out of Obama’s way as he fell. The race, his aides promised, would be a referendum on Obama; Romney was an obviously acceptable alternative, a success in the private and public sector who had avoided being pinned down on policy and, whatever his flaws, could hardly be labeled extreme. Obama, the focus-group tested story went, was a nice guy out of his depth. Romney was the solution.
The ferocity of Obama’s assault on Romney’s character had already rattled this plan. On June 18, after a top Obama aide suggested that he could be a “felon,” Romney dropped the “nice guy” line.
“[Romney] has said Obama’s a nice fellow, he’s just in over his head,” an adviser told BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins. “But I think the governor himself believes this latest round of attacks that have impugned his integrity and accused him of being a felon go so far beyond that pale that he’s really disappointed. He believes it’s time to vet the president. He really hasn’t been vetted; McCain didn’t do it.”
The last month has alternated between jibes and Romney’s central logic of focusing on the economy, the only obstacle between the campaigns and a full-on mudfight. The nomination of Paul Ryan has, finally, removed that obstacle. Ryan’s nomination instantly turned the race from a referendum into a choice, and gave Romney his own parallel to the economy: The Ryan budget.
The campaigns had not been, to this point, parallel, but now they’re dark mirror images
I don’t know why anyone is really surprised by this. All of the talk about high-minded “big picture” elections makes the talking heads smile, but the reality is that this is politics, and in politics you fight to win. Given that we’re dealing with an election where there are, quite clearly, a limited number of voters to fight over and a limited number of states to capture to win that 270 Electoral Vote majority, it’s not at all surprising that both campaigns, their surrogates, and the SuperPACs working on their behalf would be going into attack mode this early and this darkly. You can expect more of this at the respective party conventions starting in two weeks, with appointed surrogates on the dais whipping up their partisan crowds with wild and largely unsubstantiated claims about the other party. This is what we have to look forward to, and this is why so many people are giving up on politics altogether.
Civility? You thought they’d be civility and high minded debate? Wow, are you naive pundit class.
I think we all remember, back early in the primary process, when Obama was failing against “generic Republican” but winning against each named candidate. I think we said then that we could expect Governor Romney to run as “generic Republican.”
We are reminded now that he tried that, with the “Obama is a nice guy who can’t handle the job” stuff.
It seems that Obama people are fighting that, with tactics ranging from the clean to the … well probably not dirty in historic terms, but non-clean. All those tactics share one thing though, they are about un-genericizing Mitt.
I’d prefer Obama and allies stay clean, and I think they have lots to work with there. Specifically they should not let Mitt be “generic Republican” on budget and the economy. He’s staked some positions, and he should be held to them.
BTW, I saw some bar graph that showed Congressman Ryan as one of the furthest-right of VP choices. For that reason he also should not be allowed to wear “generic Republican.”
As Michael reminded us, he wasn’t chosen for that. He was chosen for his budget moxie.
Wait a minute — Romney hasn’t made a commercial which wasn’t an untrue attack on Obama, and only when Biden and Obama threw in some low (but nowhere near so low as, say, Romney’s attack on the welfare waivers last week) is this not a big picture election.
Step away from the Republican Kool-aid, Doug.
Gosh, I wonder what happened to the candidate who said this:
“Look, this is a campaign. We’ve got to have broad shoulders. You can’t spend your time whining about the fact that people are drawing attention to your record in the past. I’ve been attacked. It’s fine. Get used to it. ”
“Speaker Gingrich,” said Romney, “is not revealing himself to be the kind of person I think he would want to be seen in this race for president, because fundamentally, we look for qualities in a president, but we don’t look for whining and excuses.”
Oh, right. That was when other candidates were complaining about HIS attacks on THEM. This is completely different. Now he’s the one being attacked, and that is just unacceptable.
He really is a nasty little bully, isn’t he?
Right, we should also remember that in the primary, when he faced other Republicans, it was universally agreed that his main strength was his ability to bombard opponents with negative ads.
All of these are quotes directly attributed to your candidate (and, with this latest post, you can just stop with the “I’m not a Mitt man” ‘coz nobody’s buying it). Has there ever been a bigger bunch of whiny-assed titty babies than this candidate and his water carriers? Is the teary-eyed-John-Boehner route the next stop for this campaign?
I have to say…I think Romney is losing it.
I mean..not electorally.
He canceled an event the other day because he was “exhausted” right?
Unhinged may be the right word….I’m no Doctor.
I definitely think we are seeing a politician go nuts on the national stage.
Well, if Romney could shake his etch-a-sketch and retroactively erase Lee Atwater, perhaps things would be different.
As a Democrat, I am not thrilled that Obama has to get down in the mud, but that is the world we live in. Romney has never hesitated to throw low blows, and his whining because Democrats won’t just stand there and take it anymore is not impressive.
Didn’t we establish a couple weeks ago that it was possible for a comment to be so “right” that it would just end the thread???
Well…Nikki wins the thread….
@john personna: “As Michael reminded us, he wasn’t chosen for that. He was chosen for his budget moxie. ”
Where ‘budget moxie’ means ‘vast chutzpah, gall and sociopathic fraud’.
@C. Clavin: Thank you, but I can’t take credit for WATB. it’s either Atrios or John Cole who came up with that. But it MORE than applies to this year’s Republican Presidential campaign. My gawd, do they EVER STOP WHINING?!
Romney is losing it…
Today in an interview with Fortune Romney called the unfavorable analysis of his economic plan by the Tax Policy Center “garbage”…and as proof cited Erskin Bowles who…wait for it…agrees with the Tax Policy Center that it’s not mathematically possible to meet Romney’s goals without asking the middle class to pay more in taxes.
One thin consolation…it’s easier to be nuts with money, than without. If you have money they say you are eccentric. If you don’t they put you in a rubber room.
No matter…I love it.
Imagine the bumper sticker…
Whiney Assed Titty Babies
You could sell millions.
There is no shortage of talk aout the stupid economy, s iden “ugky and over the top”.
their think you’re allowing the heat of the arguments to distract from the essential big picture arguments that underlay. Even Biden is clearly addressing a real issue with a powerful metaphor.
Notice Romney expressed interest in talking about the issues, not about telling the truth about those issues.
That would probably be too much for any politician. For example, Wasserman-Schultz couldn’t name any way in which the Ryan plan would affect current seniors, and yet Sully’s commenters are doing a fantastic job.
Complete and utter hogwash. They’re not even in the same universe of negative campaigning.
The Romney camp has been smearing the president’s character day in and out from surrogates and from the top of the ticket since he entered the race. They’ve gone after his growing up in Indonesia, after his youthful drug use, after his patriotism and belief in his country, after his respect for religious freedom, after his supposed wanting to hand lazy folks welfare checks, after his support for the military and their voting rights. They’ve accused him with zero evidence of crony payoffs, of not understand our “anglo-saxon heritage,” of disgracing the office of the presidency, of wanting to “steal from” “raid” “rob” with “blood on his hands” the Medicare trust fund.
These aren’t gaffes and one off isolated incidents or outside, third party expenditures. This is a feature of Romney’s campaign and his constant, blatant lying, day in and out, directly from the mouth of the candidate.
Compare and contrast, from yesterday:
Mitt Romney on President Obama:
“The president is taking things to a new low. His campaign and his surrogates have made wild and reckless accusations that disgrace the office of the presidency. Another outrageous charge just came a few hours ago in Virginia and the White House sinks a little bit lower. This is what an angry and desperate presidency looks like. President Obama knows better, promised better and America deserves better.
Over the last four years this president has pushed Republicans and Democrats about as far apart as they can go, and now he and his allies are pushing as even further apart by dividing us into groups. He demonizes some, he panders to others. His campaign strategy is to smash America apart and then try to cobble together 51% of the pieces. If an American president wins that way we would all lose, but he won’t win that way.
So Mister President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago and let us get about rebuilding and reuniting America.”
President Obama on Mitt Romney:
“He seems to have a great family. And I really think he had a great health care plan when he was in Massachusetts,” Obama said. “Seems to be working really well — One of the reasons why we set up the same kind of plan nationally and we’re implementing it right now.”
At the very least, repealing the ACA will strip current retirees of the new benefits the legislation provided them.
The Dems can use that to get around the Ryan/Romney 55 and older, political-pander smokescreen, and hammer them for cutting benifits: no cost preventative care + expanded prescription drug coverage.
Shorter Romney: ” I, and only I , should be allowed to bury an opposing candidate with negative ads. When the other side does it, it’s so UNFAIR! ”
Please send a team of violin players over to the Mitt Romney camp to accompany Mitt’s world class whine.
By the way, I am totally for an issue focused, policy focused campaign. But all of us,except for False Equivalency Doug, understood which side started and perfected this kind of campaign. Let the Republicans stop their rumormongering and personal attacks first and then the Democrats can respond in Kind . Otherwise, Team Obama should keep its deflector shields up and keep firing photon torpedoes.
I was under the impression this already started.
@ Jeremy R. and Tillman…
In additon as Seniors disappear from traditional Medicare by attrition…the purchasing power of Medicare will diminish and thus benefits.
The Ryan plan is a trojan horse…plain and simple.
What happens if the PPACA fails? Some Doctors get paid less…and the Government pays some more. It’s not the first time a policy cost more than predicted…Iraq for instance.
What happens if Ryans plan doesn’t work? Everyone get’s f’ed.
Says the guy who was shocked –shocked, I say– that Harry Reid would spread a rumor about Mitt Romney’s tax returns.
That didn’t shock me. Harry has a history of political slime. I just was dismayed that so few people here would bother to condemn it.
@Mr. Replica: Question asked and answered.
Best Emo band name ever: Whiny Assed Titty Babies.
Maybe it’s because 1988 the Republicans have released a tsunami of slime besides which Harry Reid’s contribution is as a minor peccadillo?
I find it astonishingly that you continue your False Equivalence charade without acknowledging that the Republicans are so much more at fault. It’s like you are the reincarnation of David Broder.
Well….you might have found more condemnation several years ago. But after “comfort and aid to the enemy,” after “Real Americans” and “death panels,” after “Kenyan socialists” and the Tea Party, there’s only one reason to condemn Harry Reid:
This idea that there’s some kind of basic standard of behavior that is observed by all and Reid somehow violated those standards is clearly bunk.
Oddly enough, it appears one of the parties still is interested in discussing big picture issues, but it’s not the GOP.
Everyone including Democrats are just thrown off by the fact that Obama’s team is actually willing to turn the tables on the Repubs and crawl out from the corner where DEMS are usually cowering, saying, “please don’t hit me anymore,” and actually starting to fight back.
What bullies hate most of all. Someone who fights back.
@Doug Mataconis: 47% of the members of your Republican party believe the President is Muslim. Nearly half of the GOP believes the President is Muslim. Barely a majority of conservatives do not believe the President is Muslim.
What Harry Reid doesn’t even compare.
Meh. This isn’t really that nasty of an election season. Not yet.
If we get to October and Obama’s internal polling is really bad then we’ll see nasty.
Regarding Biden’s comments from yesterday, I seriously doubt as some have suggested he actually was playing the race card. I suspect instead it merely was the aneurysms talking. If Obama were to say something along those lines obviously it would be the race card, but honestly Obama is too smart and too slick for that. When the Dems go into full race card mode it’ll be at the street and pulpit levels, not by anyone officially associated with the campaign. Figure mid to late-September.
Concerning the naive and cocooned chattering classes, well, that’s a function of demographics. Suburbs. Private schools. Wealth. Vacation homes. Cocktail parties. They’re not the sort of people who can understand or appreciate the back alley knife fight components of pure power politics.
Those things make you think the Obama campaign is over the top and nasty? If that’s as bad as things got this year it would be an image of high-minded thoughtful dialog compared to most past years, such as 1988 when the election was all about the pledge of allegiance, or 2000 which was a debate about Gore’s propensity to lie in ways that he’d never actually lied.
Heave yourself up off the fainting couch, Doug. It ain’t that bad.
I think the dirt is basically an indication that it’s a close and unpredictable race. It’s easy to be high-minded when you’re in little danger of losing.
Doug, you’ve become a caricature.
Please…as if this is some new development, as if this hasn’t been going on for the entire history of this country…
So, you write an article about the campaign in the mud without one – not a solitary one – mention of the absolutely horrendous, race-baiting, flat out lies that have been promoted by the Romney campaign (and by Romney himself) about President Obama. Do I need to recite the list again? Well it appears I do. First Romney has been saying (and even wrote a goddam book about it) that PBO “apologised for America”. Well, he certainly should have but he didn’t do so. From lying about gutting welfare requirements (absolutely false) to lying about 716billion in medicare cuts, Romney simply lies and lies (see Steve Benen) without any consequences whatsoever and that’s ALL he has been doing. What are his policies? What are his plans for creating jobs, other than a 5 trilliion tax cuts on the wealthiest 1%? Show me ONE lie promoted by Barack Obama about Romney? Just ONE.
@Doug Mataconis: ” Harry has a history of political slime. I just was dismayed that so few people here would bother to condemn it. ”
It seems to me you have no first-hand knowledge of Romney’s tax status. And I doubt you’d argue that Reid’s words were illegal.
So according to Doug’s Law, as described when ducking the issue of Ohio’s statutes to prevent minorities from voting, shouldn’t you refuse to comment?
Well, a good counter to the POV would be ’72…
@anjin-san: True, but this is Nixon we’re talking about….
We’ve had well over a decade of Republican smear campaigns, and only now are you complaining about the tone of elections? Do you remember where the term ‘Swift Boating’ came from?
This kind of thing isn’t good for the country, but no one in the punditocracy has even gone ‘tut-tut’ to the Republicans, much less raked them over the coals. If you pundits had done your job properly over the last decade, I doubt we’d be seeing nearly as much mud-throwing. But you gave the Republicans a pass (and still are). So you’ve no right to get snarky and moralistic now.
Oh Bo hoo. Shall I get you a fainting couch and some smelling salt. Let me give you a wee reminder of where we have been and believe me, I am just scratching the surface.
After Willie Horton ads, Swiftboating, GOP convention-goers waving purple band-aids to mock a veteran’s war wounds, birtherism, Ann Coulter saying the “only choice was whether to impeach or assassinate” President Clinton, Coulter claiming 9/11 widows were “enjoying their husband’s deaths,” Rush Limbaugh mocking Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s disease, ads falsely claiming Barack Obama favored “comprehensive sex education for Kindergartners,” Rand Paul supporters trying to stomp the head of a protester, ads claiming Kay Hagen was “godless,” Michelle Bachmann calling for an investigation of ‘un-American views” among the Congress, “If ballots don’t work, maybe bullets will,” “Obama hates white people,” ‘GET OFF MY PHONE YOU LITTLE PINHEAD!” “YOU LIE!”, wingnuts at FreeRepublic calling 11-year old Sasha Obama a “street whore” for wearing a peace sign on her t-shirt, outright lies about “death panels,” “Bury Obamacare with Kennedy,” cheering for executions, booing soldiers in war zones for being gay, comparing poor people to stray animals you shouldn’t feed, “’we’ve got one raghead in the White House, we don’t need a raghead in the governor’s mansion,” supposed “Christians” suggesting that people pray for the President using Psalm 109:8 (“May his days be few; may another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow”) as a text, Limbaugh calling the First Lady “uppity,” and on and on and on, all without a single peep from the Right…They can take their whiny-ass bullshit about liberal “rudeness” and peddle it somewhere else. We ain’t buyin’ it here.
this. a thousand times.
seriously, the party of ‘death panels’ and birtherism is complaining about ‘tone’? get the hell out of here with that garbage.
@Nikki: your figures are off a bit, maybe 30% think he “may be muslim”, most say he’s “christian. this is from cbs, not some rightwing wacko poll!