Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Taking the Low Road

What was interesting about the dead heat in the Republican caucuses in Iowa last night was the opportunity it presented for both candidates Santorum and Romney to make back-to-back victory speeches. The contrast between the two was stark. However much I might disagree with Santorum's ideas, I had to admire the mostly positive tone of Santorum's speech, and the way he was able to forge an emotional connection with the audience. And his ideas (wrong-headed as Democrats might think they are) nevertheless sounded well thought-out and sincere.

Romney's speech, on the other hand, mainly offered cheap shots at the president. In contrast to Santorum, he sounded phony and glib, and his policy proposals came off as exactly the kind of simplistic and superficial solutions that Santorum had just suggested we need to get beyond.

When we analyze Romney's case against the president, we find that almost every accusation was false or misleading. Romney claimed the gap between Obama's promises four years ago and his performance was the widest he had ever seen. But then he could not give a single example, and most objective assessments of the president's performance have actually found a remarkable consistency between candidate Obama's promises and President Obama's efforts to fulfill them. Romney attacked Obama's Iran policy, falsely asserting that the president was silent when dissidents took to the streets in that country. Romney repeated the false claim that the Obama administration promised to hold unemployment below a certain level (as if the president had the power to do that), which Romney must have known was just an overly-optimistic forecast by one of Obama's economic advisers. Finally, Romney claimed that Obama's deficits would exceed those of every president before him, ignoring the facts that nearly all of those deficits have been caused by the deep recession Obama inherited, as well as by the tax cuts, war spending, and other initiatives that Romney and other Republicans have consistently supported.

Negative campaigning can work, but a candidate can also pay a high price for it, as Romney is learning from the way he has made an enemy of Newt Gingrich, for example. And Romney may pay a high price himself for his gutter-style campaign if he should be lucky enough to get the chance to face off against President Obama. The American people deserve a more high-minded campaign. There are substantial differences between the two parties' platforms on issues as important as reducing inequality, tax policy, and the proper role for government in our society. Why not have an honest and respectful philosophical debate about those differences?  Mitt Romney is intelligent enough to do that. He doesn't need to take the low road.

(CNN photos)

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