Consider the disparity in attacks each presidential candidate is launching at the other.
From the president’s side the top five lines of attack are: 1) Mitt Romney is taking “you didn’t build that out of context,” and don’t pay attention to the context because the comments might seem pretty anti-business. 2) Romney didn’t resign from Bain in 1999, according to a Boston Globe story which picked up the oppo from Mother Jones and TPM that other publications wouldn’t use, but which doesn’t really show Romney was exercising control. 3) Romney is an outsourcer, but it doesn’t matter if U.S. jobs from Bain companies actually went overseas while he was running the company after he left. 4) A British paper that badly mangles U.S. politics (remember this one?) found someone calling himself a Romney adviser who used the phrase “Anglo-Saxon heritage.” 5.) Romney is only going to be releasing two years of tax returns (the same number as Sen. John McCain did and two more than Sen. John Kerry’s heiress wife did).
All of these share some common features. None is about, you know, the country. All but the last were put out surreptitiously using the media to raise the “issue,” from which the Obama campaign could then cherry pick facts for its ads. No wrongdoing or unethical behavior has been proven. Other than the last item, they are articles of faith for which no “answer”can be obtained (either because the facts don’t exist or because the issues have become akin to birtherism, where facts cease to matter).
Now let’s consider Romney’s five top attacks (you could choose others, but theses are certainly in the top ten): 1) The economy is rotten. 2) Obama has made the debt worse and refused to lead on entitlement reform. 3) Obama thinks taxing the rich and more regulations will make the economy better. 4) Obamacare. 5) Obama has beat up on our allies and cut defense too deeply.
These also share some common characteristics. They are each about the country. Romney raised the issues and made the arguments himself to the voters rather than get the press to create issues for him. They all go to Obama’s performance. And, they can be supported or undermined by actual facts (number of unemployed, Obama’s Dodd-Frank bill, comparing the growth rate under Ronald Reagan to the current “recovery,” etc.)
Obama’s campaign, aside from being about petty things, seems aimed at the media. None of the Obama “issues” are among the voters’ top concerns, but reporters lap them up. Maybe the themes will wear well over time, or maybe we will soon see movement in the horse race numbers.
However, there are several very big risks associated we focusing on such matters. First, Obama is not talking about what voters want to hear. Second, he’s not making the case why he deserves a second term. And other than to propose tax hikes and celebrating the importance of government, he hasn’t told us what he’ll do, what actual policies he’ll pursue, or how they will improve the economy.
Obama’s character attacks might work, but only if the public accepts that this is what’s important. It’s been my experience that voters care about their own lives and the country’s future.
Just one question: How can pundits and politicians who claim to want serious discussion of the issues and political courage excuse the sort of campaign Obama is running?