(The usual drivel: Thanks to the syndication deal, this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)
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FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, AUG. 14, 2012
BY BOB FRANKEN
Let’s get over it. All the hand-wringing in the world is not going to put a stop to negative campaigning. Why? Because it works.
Two polls, conducted within days of each other in July, tell the story: One, by Knights of Columbus-Marist, tallied a full 78 percent who agreed that they were “mostly frustrated by the tone of political discourse.” One can only guess that the remaining 22 percent is comprised of the consultants and TV stations that find big bucks in the muck. They can justify their dark craft with the second poll, an NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey that reveals a jump in the numbers of those who have adopted extremely unfavorable opinions of both candidates. So we are attracted to tactics we consider noxious. Go figure.
This is true even as the ads and charges are going increasingly over the top, or more appropriately, under the bottom. Let’s face it, Democrats: The commercial that ties Mitt Romney’s ventures to a woman’s cancer death is mighty low, to say nothing of grossly misleading. A Chicago Tribune editorial calls it a “vicious, shameful ad.” It doesn’t matter that it’s the work of Priorities USA Action, one of those super-PACs that can’t coordinate with a campaign it supports -- in this case, Barack Obama’s.
Romney’s campaign doesn’t even make that pretense with its now-infamous Obama is “gutting welfare reform” tirade, which is a serious deception playing on TV screens everywhere. Dirty dealing? You bet, but guaranteed to tarnish the other guy.
All this calls into question any hopeful speculation we are seeing about Romney’s choice of Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate. After all Ryan is the chairman of the House Budget Committee and author of a long-term fiscal plan for the United States that has become the GOP template for attacking the nation’s debilitating deficit and debt problems. So, the thinking goes, the argument will now focus on valid issues.
Maybe there’s something to that. At least the negative campaign will be elevated. After all, won’t the trashing be over the substance of Ryan’s plan? It gets to the core differences between the two philosophies of government. Ryan proposes to save trillions of dollars by gutting social programs and turning Medicare into a voucher system to help pay for private insurance. At the same time, he calls for the wealthy to pay even lower taxes. That alone would explain the appeal to Romney. Mitt was already on record gushing about the Ryan plan as “marvelous.”
Actually, Paul Ryan’s biggest attraction might have been the chance to placate all the hard-line conservatives in Mitt Romney’s party who have real trouble swallowing that he is one of them. Maybe it’s because he hasn’t always been. There had been a lot of thunder from the right, pretty much demanding a Romney-Ryan ticket, so Mitt, always anxious to please, complied.
In the Olympic spirit, “Let the games begin.” We do have an arena with opposite sides that are clearly defined. Notwithstanding platitudes, we see approaches to the future that are starkly different. It’s not only the economy. There are equally nasty arguments about the role of religion in the United States, along with sexuality and tolerance -- a debate over the full range of issues that turn irrational in a big hurry.
Just as importantly, the opposition research teams are working overtime to find some dirt on every one of the candidates and their associates. If they don’t, they’ll just make stuff up. It’s the American way of electioneering. Never mind that other result from the Marist poll that “64 percent believe the negativity in campaigns causes a great deal of harm to the nation’s political process.” Nobody involved cares much about that. All that counts is winning by making your opponent lose. Along with all of us.
© 2012 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.