“It’s easy to get caught up in the distractions and the silliness and the tit for tat that consumes our politics.” – Senator Barack Obama, Democratic presidential primary campaign speech following a Pennsylvania loss against Senator Hillary Clinton, April 22nd, 2008.
For political junkies, it seems like we’ve always been in the general election season. With Rick Perry imploding, Newt Gingrich dreaming of moon bases, and Rick Santorum failing to create a solid campaign infrastructure, it appeared inevitable that Mitt Romney would eventually win the Republican presidential nomination.
In reality, however, the general election didn’t really start until April 10th, which is when Santorum exited the race. For all the stories, speeches, and attack ads, we’ve only been at this for a little more than three months! Crazy, eh?
As of yet, President Obama’s campaign has resorted to creating a series of distractions. With each passing week, the Obama campaign tosses out a few more shiny baubles to distract from the economy, job creation, and health care. This “let’s focus on anything but what’s actually important” strategy is a far cry from the president’s idea of a good campaign in 2008.
“Senator McCain and his operatives are gambling that he can distract you with smears rather than talk to you about substance. They’d rather try to tear our campaign down than lift this country up. …I want you to know that I’m going to keep on talking about the issues that matter – about the economy and health care and education and energy.” – Senator Barack Obama, presidential campaign speech at Asheville, North Carolina, October 5th, 2008.
It appears that a lot has changed over the last few years. Now, President Obama just about refuses to talk about the weak economy. Health care’s another bad issue for him, since ObamaCare continues to be unpopular with a majority of voters. His education reform proposals have fallen flat, and he certainly doesn’t want to talk about energy these days. So, what’s his solution? A distraction-centered, gaffe-focused campaign. Yes, the kind that he decried just a few years ago.
“Yes, we know what’s coming… The same efforts to distract us from the issues that affect our lives by pouncing on every gaffe and association and fake controversy in the hope that the media will play along. …I didn’t get into this race thinking that I could avoid this kind of politics, but I am running for President because this is the time to end it.” – Senator Barack Obama, primary campaign speech following the North Carolina and Indiana elections, May 6th, 2008.
Well, that certainly didn’t happen. Yes, President Obama’s views on distractions have evolved a great deal since entering the Oval Office. Let me clarify that I don’t believe that all stories labeled as “distractions” actually are distractions. While I disagree with the Bain attacks on Mitt Romney, for example, I don’t consider all of them distractions. With that said, here are the top five silliest attacks on Mitt Romney by the Obama campaign.
This one came about just at the tail-end of the primary campaign as Mitt Romney locked up the nomination. When asked about transitioning from the primary campaign to a general election campaign, campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom replied, ““Everything changes, it’s almost like an Etch-a-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.” The media (and Gingrich/Santorum) immediately pounced on the admittedly awkward comparison, using it to smear Romney with the “flip-flopper” label once more. (If you’re curious, I’ve written on the subject of “flip-flopping” before.)
The comparison also stoked Tea Party fears that Mitt Romney would start backsliding on the conservative positions he took during the primary season. As of now, those fears appear to have been unfounded. Since he hasn’t flip-flopped yet, both the media and the Obama campaign soon dropped the “Etch-a-Sketch” line of attack in favor of labeling Romney a “radical conservative extremist.”
4.) Dogs on roofs
About 30 years ago, Mitt Romney and his wife Ann took their family on a vacation, and they brought along the family dog, Seamus. Lacking room in the car, they put him up on its roof. From the media and Obama campaign’s attacks over the “issue,” you’d think that Romney duct-taped the poor dog to the top of the car. In reality, Seamus was riding along in his usual carrier, and Mitt Romney even set up a windshield for his dog’s ride.
Is it a bit odd? Sure. But it certainly doesn’t strike me as “cruel,” particularly due to the safeguards that Romney took to make the trip more comfortable for Seamus. Besides isn’t Romney going out of his way to bring along Seamus on the family vacation an indication of how much he cares for it? After all, it would’ve been much easier to leave the pet behind in a kennel, and it’s not like Romney couldn’t afford that. Due to America’s love affair with dogs, however, expect Obama campaign surrogates to slip this story into the news cycle from time to time until Election Day.
The heretofore unknown Olympic sport of “dressage” has received a great deal of publicity lately. Why? Ann Romney (Mitt’s wife) competes in it, and it looks pretty silly. If you’ve missed the dozens of not-so-subtly-mocking stories on the subject, allow me to enlighten you. Dressage is an equestrian sport in which riders and their horses compete against one another by performing a sort of predetermined dance.
The Fédération Equestre Internationale states, “Dressage is considered the art of equestrian sport and is used as the groundwork for all other disciplines. It is the highest expression of horse training.” Democrats have delighted in ridiculing the sport and Ann Romney for competing in it, referring to it derogatorily as “horse ballet.” However, she uses the sport in order to treat her multiple sclerosis, so this strikes me as a particularly tasteless line of attack.
Is dressage sort of goofy? Sure. Are most equestrian sports expensive enough that you have to have some wealth in order to compete? I’m pretty sure (I honestly don’t know, but I doubt horses are cheap). However, due to Ann Romney’s medical reasons for competing in the sport, I would argue that it should be off-the-table in terms of attack ads. Yes, dressage is a luxury, but more to the point, when did we start attacking people for their wealth in the United States?
2.) Teenage Bully
In early May, the Washington Post reported that Mitt Romney was a bit of a bully back in high school. The story highlighted one particular incident in which Romney forcibly cut another student’s long, dyed hair in 1965. Later on, the victim turned out to be gay. The piece sparked a short media firestorm in which Obama campaign surrogates gleefully labeled Romney a monster. Online, some liberal bloggers went so far as to label the bullying incident a hate crime against homosexual people, even though the student in question hadn’t come out at the time.
Yes, bullying is wrong, including in this instance. However, this was 47 years ago. Mitt Romney was a high school kid. Now, he’s 65 years old, with a wife and five adult children of his own. The man has 18 grandchildren. Democrats using the incident as some sort of judge for his character are obviously being frivolous. By all accounts, he’s a good family man with strong personal character, and he has publicly apologized for bullying other kids in his youth.
How many of us want to be defined by our high school years? The incident isn’t becoming of teenage Mitt, but it’s impossible (and a little insane) to say that Romney hasn’t grown considerably as a person over the last five or so decades.
This is easily the most frivolous story on this list, but it’s also the silliest, so it goes right to the top. Older readers will recall a widely-publicized incident in the 1992 presidential campaign, in which President George H.W. Bush appeared simply fascinated with a mere grocery scanner. Although the story was later debunked, it was used effectively by Bill Clinton’s campaign to paint Bush as an incredibly out-of-touch politician.
Last month, MSNBC and host Andrea Mitchell blatantly attempted to manufacture another such moment following Mitt Romney’s stop at a Wawa convenience store (if you haven’t heard of it before, don’t be ashamed, neither had I), where apparently they have a touchscreen interface for picking out your sandwiches. Mitchell showed a deceptively-edited video on air which appeared to reveal Romney completely amazed by the technology.
Before long, the real video surfaced, and showed that Romney’s amazement had much more to do with the difference between the public and private sectors than sandwich computers. The silly story quickly vanished.
Now, in the interest of being fair, I want to highlight two silly attacks on President Obama. First, there’s the “Obama ate a dog” line of attack that proved rather popular on Twitter. A rebuttal to the Obama campaign’s attacks on Romney over Seamus, I think both stories are equally ridiculous. In his memoir, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, Obama wrote that he had eaten dog meat as a child in Indonesia. He was a kid, and that’s what he was fed. Move on.
Also, the Obama campaign has been roundly mocked for pleading for donations via wedding registries. It’s a ridiculous, tasteless idea that’s easy to mock. Outside of the usual Twitter lambasting, it hasn’t received much attention in the media, but it’s still probably time to drop it. Campaigns do ridiculous things to bring in dollars all the time, and the Obama campaign’s fundraising is particularly desperate as they attempt to match Mitt Romney. Is it funny? Sure. But let’s drop it.
Distractions will always be a part of campaigning. The amount of distractions which a candidate resorts to in order to draw attention away from their principles and the issues can tell you a great deal. I’ll end this post on one more all-too-true quotation from the president.
“When we get distracted by those kinds of questions, I think we do a disservice to the American people.” – Senator Barack Obama, Democratic presidential primary debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, June 3rd, 2007.