In the past weeks the Obama reelection campaign has revealed its primary strategy: to make the American people hate Mitt Romney. The flood of negativity recently reached a peak when Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, suggested that a paperwork anomaly regarding when Romney ceased making executive decisions for Bain Capital either made him a liar or a felon. Frankly, this type of slander is simply unacceptable, and Obama should be personally ashamed that such a statement was made. While this move is certainly condemnable, especially considering that the 2008 Barack Obama promised an end to petty and personal politics, it is not altogether unexpected. After all, when your presidential record is as historically weak as Obama’s, just about the only thing you can do is viciously attack your opponent in order to deflect public scrutiny away from yourself. However, in the long run, such a strategy is terribly unwise: If Obama’s message continues to be based on continuous criticism of decade-old Bain Capital dealings and internal affairs, then the president will not stand a chance against Romney’s sober focus on the troubles facing the American economy. Obama needs to realize something: Questioning the ability of Romney’s experience as a businessman to make him qualified to be president is a legitimate criticism, while painting him as a money-grabbing corporate tyrant in a prolonged character assassination campaign is not.
Eventually, negative attacks begin to backfire, particularly if they hone in on personal history details. John McCain realized this too late in 2008: After months of brazen attacks regarding Obama’s former pastor and his (insignificant) relations with former members of the Weather Underground, the public simply became sick of the negativity. In 2008, Obama consistently stayed on message and focused on the issues (at the time, the issue on everyone’s mind was also the in-the-toilet economy). Even though he ended up breaking many of his campaign promises (closing Guantanamo Bay, not raising taxes on the middle class, and others), Obama ran a brilliant campaign that showed how he would be different than Bush and McCain. Obama was able to redirect widespread public discontent with the unpopular president towards his electoral rival. Obama’s platform argued that he represented a fundamental change from the status quo (“business as usual”), but now that same claim is being used in exactly the same way by Romney. While he may be an ineffective leader, Obama is certainly a genius campaigner, and now his own tricks are being used against him. There is still time for the president to clean up his campaign, but he faces a problem: What in his own record is he supposed to stand on? With respect to the eminent domestic issue, jobs, Obama only has an anemic recovery as evidence of his ability to lead. And that, simply, is not good enough for the American people.