(As you can see this column appears here a week after its newspaper release. That's because of the syndication deal)
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FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, AUG. 28, 2012
BY BOB FRANKEN
There is no attack more malignant than the passive-aggressive one. In fact, “passive-abusive” probably is preferable, since the intent is to do harm in the most cowardly way, disguised, for instance, as a joke. When the victim is hurt, the abuser can hide behind some line like, “Don’t be so sensitive,” or “I was just kidding, for heaven’s sake” or “We’ve got to have a little humor in a campaign.”
That last one was the disingenuous response of Mitt Romney when challenged in a CBS News interview for the gratuitous shot he took at an event in Michigan, where he and his wife had grown up: “Ann was born in Henry Ford Hospital. I was born in Harper Hospital. No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate.”
Was that little joke an attempt to kiss up to the “birther” extremists, who are still a significant force in the GOP? Never mind that their contention that Barack Obama is disqualified from being president because they fantasize he was born outside the United States should have been discredited once and for all when Mr. Obama released his long form Hawaii birth certificate. And never mind that Mitt his very own self once again told CBS “I’ve said throughout the campaign and before, there’s no question about where he was born. He was born in the U.S.”
Well, then, what could that line have been but a cheap-shot wink at the loonies, despite his insistence it was “No, no, not a swipe.” Outraged? Don’t be. Instead, let’s unleash all the passive abuse in politics. Forget the outright lies and direct assaults that make the campaign look like a daily series of muggings. It’s time for the more subtle approach.
Mr. Obama can blurt that “No one’s ever suggested that I haven’t paid any taxes or hide money in offshore accounts.” Or how about, “When we traveled with our dog INSIDE the car ...”
C’mon, Republicans: Lighten up. “We’ve got to have a little humor in a campaign.” By the way, the president should make sure to attribute that last quote to Mitt Romney or he’ll set off TV ads screaming about Obama plagiarism.
Democrats can play the same game in Missouri, maybe referring to embattled GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin and his six “legitimate” children.
Actually, they already have jumped on a variation of this one. Several have called Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment a “legitimate disgrace” that gives Akin’s opponent, Claire McCaskill, who was considered toast, a legitimate surprise chance of being re-elected.
But there is nothing passive about that aggression. It’s pretty straightforward. It certainly is when compared with the artifice played by the president and his vice president. Yes, this is a bipartisan rant. Joe Biden is cast as the chatterbox who is constantly way out there, off the White House reservation. That was how he was portrayed when he chastised the bankers, charging “They’re going to put y’all back in chains.” Heavy-handed pandering to African-Americans? You bet. Unauthorized by the campaign? Don’t make that bet. And don’t buy into the administration claim that when Biden personally endorsed gay marriage he forced the president out of his political closet before he was ready. We all know the term “stalking horse.” That’s what Biden is. He’s in your face while the boss hides his face.
It’s not that all politicians use this subterfuge. Some aren’t that clever; they just naturally spew out stupid comments. Sarah Palin comes to mind, although she turns her ignorance to an advantage. Rick Perry is the real deal.
It’s easy to conclude that much of the electioneering is simply buffoonery. What’s pathetic is that much of it is calculated buffoonery. It’s a variation on the passive-aggressive technique in which the candidates seem to be really saying that they think us voters are morons. We aren’t. Are we?
© 2012 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.