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(Once again the disclaimer that this column is delayed a week after newspaper release due to the syndication deal. The current one appears in your paper unless it doesn't)

FROM NORTH AMERICA SYNDICATE, 300 W 57th STREET, 15th FLOOR, NEW YORK, NY 10019
CUSTOMER SERVICE: (800) 708-7311 EXT. 236
BOB FRANKEN
FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, OCT. 26, 2012
THE GREAT DIVIDE AND CONQUER
BY BOB FRANKEN
Finally the debates are over -- all the preprogrammed jousting is history. Actually, for the first encounter, President Barack Obama’s handlers left him in “sleep” mode, but in all the others, the contrived sound bites from both sides were filling the air.
Finally, when Obama got snitty with Mitt Romney, Romney recited, “Attacking me is not an agenda.” As Joe Biden would say, “malarkey.” In this campaign, attacking one another is the entire agenda.
Think about how much time Republicans have spent portraying Obama as different, and ponder how many in their base consider him a hated Muslim, socialist or not even eligible to hold the office because he wasn’t born in the United States. They vehemently deny racism, but you decide.
But it’s the Democrats who have coopted the “Not one of us” label and are pinning it on Romney in a new ad savaging him as a privileged, out-of-touch Etch A Sketch of a man who is willing to say anything, become anyone his audience at the moment requires. They constantly question his integrity, in effect deriding him as a Richie Richard Nixon. So, of course, attacking is the agenda. In fact, it is fair to say that as a result, there a just a few who will cast their ballots for one side or the other. Most of us will be voting against the candidate we hate, thanks to the incessant demonization.
Actually, what was so interesting about the third debate -- which was sort of about foreign policy -- was that when the contenders actually talked about international security and military matters, Romney usually ended up offering such complete support for policies of the Obama administration that I fully expected the president to reply, “I’m Barack Obama, and I approved his message.”
Mr. Obama came armed with a few killer put-downs. Telling Romney, “You seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s” was like a hit to the solar plexus. Or somewhere. That was just one of the Obama shots. No wonder Romney was sweating before the night was over. About the best line Mitt could muster was his repeated assertion that Iran is “four years closer to a nuclear war.”
Even moderator Bob Schieffer got into the act. When Romney kept telling us how much he “loves teachers,” Schieffer dismissed him with, “We all love teachers.” Frankly, even that is debatable, given how many have lost their jobs in budget cuts. Remember, it was Romney who dismissed the importance of class size.


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And now we have the scramble to the finish line, with every indication that the victor will barely drag himself across -- that is, if we can even tell who won right away. All this maneuvering and all these ads may leave us with an inconclusive result, something with a bitter aftertaste that could make Florida in 2000 seem sweet by comparison.
Not only is there already shuddering speculation about an electoral tie that would be decided by a searingly politicized Congress, but even a scenario that the Republican House of Representatives would be constitutionally assigned to choose the president, (almost certainly Romney), and the Democratic Senate the vice president (probably Joe Biden).
Think about the fun we’d have as a nation. But that story line doesn’t compare with the potential of GOP voter-suppression efforts succeeding in stymying the entire process and leaving the USA to answer for an invalid election.
Even if those nightmare plots don’t play out, the president will have to deal with a country that is as bitterly divided as ever. Before he can do anything about our brutal problems, the United States will have to be reunited. If it can be.

© 2012 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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