The Cost of Winning Ugly
This week, the friends of Barack Obama introduced into the political battle of 2012 the moral equivalent of poison gas.
In an ad produced by the super PAC Priorities USA, Mitt Romney is charged with moral, if not material, complicity in the cancer death of the wife of a Missouri steelworker.
Speaking straight into the camera, Joe Soptic, 62, charges Romney with coldly shutting down the plant where he worked and cutting off his health insurance. This, says Soptic, left his wife without insurance to pay for her care, until, falling ill, she went to a doctor, who discovered stage 4 cancer, which killed her in 22 days.
Soptic implies a causal connection between Romney's decision to shut the plant and his wife's death. The ad is a premeditated attempt to murder the reputation of Mitt Romney. And from start to finish, it is a deception.
Mitt Romney gave up leadership of Bain Capital in 1999. The steel plant was closed in 2001. Soptic lost his health insurance, but his wife was still working and had hers. She lost her job and insurance in 2003. Her illness and cancer were discovered in 2006, when Romney was ending his fourth year as governor of Massachusetts.
Was this ad the work of a rogue super PAC over which the Obama campaign had no control? Did the White House denounce the ad as unethical and malicious and wash its hands of it?
By no means. The White House, through its cynical silence, has been complicit in this moral atrocity as it reaps the benefits of it.
As for Soptic, he has been a collaborator of the Obama campaign itself, featured in a campaign ad and a conference call with reporters last May. What this smells like is a secret handoff from the Obama campaign to the Obama super PAC, which would be a violation of law.
While many journalists have denounced the ad as duplicitous and slanderous, some have hailed it. Unconcerned with its falsity, they love its message. For it mirrors what they themselves think of Mitt.
One wonders: Has the president given any thought to how he is to unite and lead the country should he win, given the character of the campaign he and his team have waged?
For a year now, the daily picture of Barack Obama most of us see is of a president heading for his helicopter for yet another rally to denounce Republicans as Tea Party obstructionists and Mitt Romney as an outsourcer and a tax dodger.
A week ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that a confidant had informed him that Romney paid no income taxes for 10 years. Harry repeated this accusation on the floor.
Instead of denouncing this sleazy tactic — a charge with no substance and without an identifiable source — the Obama chorus echoed Harry: Show us the last 10 years of your tax returns.
Are these not the same politicians and media who denounced as vicious wackos any who dared to ask to see Obama's birth certificate or the transcript from his college days at Columbia?
Assume, for the sake of argument, that these tactics work, that Obama wins re-election and that he and Harry hold the Senate.
How do they govern?
Mr. Hope and Change, the figure who once inspired millions, died a long time ago. In his stead stands a Chicago pol who barnstorms the country calling Republicans political lap dogs of millionaires and billionaires who refuse to pay their fair share of taxes.
In this campaign, Obama has steadily diminished both himself and the office he holds. Remarkable what a fear of defeat and a loss of power can do to a man.
How — after you stand cynically silent while your super PAC mongrels accused Romney of throwing the Soptic family out on the street, stripping them of health care and then letting the wife die of cancer — do you then reach out to your defeated rival?
The presidency is uniquely a place of moral leadership, said Harry Truman, a "bully pulpit," said Theodore Roosevelt.
How, after the long, low and miserable campaign he and his crowd have conducted, does Obama ascend that pulpit again without being laughed at and hooted at until he stands down?
How does he resolve the fiscal crisis looming at year's end?
Obama says he rather would not extend any of the Bush tax cuts than extend all of them. The Republican House will give him all or nothing. Yet if Obama wins and lets all of the tax cuts expire, he will need the cooperation of a Republican House and perhaps a Republican Senate to restore the cuts for those earning less than $200,000.
Obama will have to have the cooperation of a Republican House and perhaps a Republican Senate for any budget compromise to bring an end to his debilitating string of five straight trillion-dollar deficits.
Having accomplished nothing in the past two years, how would Obama accomplish anything in the next four after such a campaign?