Bold solutions vs. petty attacks

The president’s campaign has failed to deliver a substantive message

“Vote like your ladyparts depend on it.” This is the message that greeted users browsing the Obama campaign website the day before the first presidential debate. The message was clear, and it was petty. If you saw the message and thought “gee, how becoming of the president. How grand a message,” you were one of very few.

Sometimes in politics, fortunes change abruptly. Yet sometimes political fortunes slowly slip away, and a campaign is left to wonder, at the end of the road, “what could have been?” For the Obama/Biden 2012 campaign, the case is very much the latter. In 13 days, voters will go to the polls and cast their ballots. If the president loses, it will have been the result of what can best be described as political malpractice. It is a tenet of political campaigns that a candidate must consistently “stay on message,” hammering home a central theme in stump speeches, debates, fundraisers, and other events. That is why you may hear a candidate repeat the same line ten times, or repeat the same argument in a debate.

Yet while former Governor Romney executed this plan impressively, sticking to the sluggish economy and foreign policy issues, the Obama message was usually a distraction, not an issue. “Ladyparts” was just one of many distractions, as the Obama campaign consistently resorted to attacks on Romney, or refused to disavow attacks made by its political allies. While Romney addressed the failed stimulus, the Obama campaign attacked Romney’s success. When Romney spoke of Medicare reform, the DNC ran ads attacking Romney’s tax returns and featured Ann Romney’s dressage horse, which she used for her multiple sclerosis therapy. While there is no evidence that the Obama campaign collaborated with the DNC to make the ad, the campaign still failed to disavow the ad. When a pro-Obama SuperPAC ran an ad suggesting that Romney was responsible for the death of a steel worker’s wife, it took nearly two weeks for the Obama campaign to disavow the shameful scare tactic. While Romney proposed a five-point economic plan, Obama made contraception a major issue by inviting Sandra Fluke to speak at campaign events.

While Romney spoke about the deficit, the Obama campaign suggested Romney was either a liar or a felon for not releasing his tax returns. Romney addressed currency manipulation as Obama insisted that Romney held investments in the Cayman Islands and China. It is worth noting that the president makes similar investments, although these investments were made indirectly through an Illinois accounting firm.

On Friday, Romney slammed Obama’s “incredible shrinking campaign,” adding that “this is a big country with big opportunities and big challenges. And they keep talking about smaller and smaller things.” The trend continued following the first presidential debate, as the president made Big Bird a central focus of his campaign. And as democratic strategists threw up their arms and Romney continued to surge in the polls, you would have thought that it was clearly time for the Obama campaign to shift its message to more substantive issues. But old habits die hard.

During the second debate, Romney mentioned that he was given binders full of qualified women for consideration in his cabinet by women’s groups. This statement, while not artfully worded, carried a clear message in response to an important question. But the following day, the Obama campaign had found a new distraction of the week: “binders full of women.” Biden waved a binder around during a campaign stop, while Obama has brought up the issue on multiple campaign stops.

If, in 13 days, America elects a new president, it will not be the result of a single debate, nor any other isolated incident. Voters will have chosen vision over distraction.

Darryl Williams over 11 years ago

This is cute, and while I won't deny what's said about what makes an effective campaign; I only hope this article itself doesn't serve as a distraction from the policies and views that actually -should- determine what voters choose. By that metric, four more years is obvious. One can only vote and hope though.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

Very prescient article. Last night's debate proceeded on exactly these lines. Obama seemed small and petty, nipping at Romney's heels and trying to score cheap debating points. A Martian viewing the debate would have assumed that Romney was already the President and Obama was the challenger. While Obama desperately needed a win to reverse the declining trend of his campaign since the disastrous first debate, I don't think that his performance was sufficient to accomplish that goal - it may even have backfired. Obama may yet eke out a victory but it will not be the runaway that we appeared to be headed for before the first debate.

There is of course good reason for Obama constantly trying to change the subject to Romney - he is in no position to run on his own record. His greatest legislative accomplishment - Obamacare - polls poorly, the economy stinks, things in the Middle East are going poorly, etc. So better to talk about Mitt Romney's tax returns, Big Bird and how Romney wants to take away your ladyparts.

One of the reasons why Romney has skyrocketed since the first debate is that the voting public finally had a chance to meet the real Mitt Romney and he was clearly a better man than the cartoon Romney portrayed in Democrat ads (it would have been impossible for him to have been worse - the cartoon Romney was practically a murderer). A reasonable person would have to conclude that Obama's ads had been lying or exaggerating all along and had to be discounted. Hundreds of millions of dollars of ad buys were negated in a single evening and the Obama campaign has been playing catch up ever since.

Nick Marden over 11 years ago

"Romney mentioned that he was given binders full of qualified women for consideration in his cabinet by womens groups."

Actually, no. He suggested that he was surprised that no women and applied for these positions and that he had asked for suitable female candidates to be found. Neither of these statements was true; the binders full of resumes and profiles had been provided to him by a non-profit group called MassGAP (Massachusetts Government Appointments Project ).


SivBum over 11 years ago

Forget about those political ads that are targeted for tiny groups of undecided. Take a look at where they stand. An objective comparison from bbc across the pond: