The conventional wisdom holds that, with unemployment continuing to be above 8%, this year's Presidential election is one that Mitt Romney should win. Certainly, the evidence shows that it is the GOP's deliberate obstructionism that has caused unemployment to remain high. But high unemployment, regardless of the cause, typically creates significant problems for incumbent Presidents. And, Obama is the first sitting President to to be out-raised by his challenger.
Yet President Obama is pretty clearly winning the election, at least so far. The latest polls shows the President leading in every swing state except North Carolina. Over at FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver gives President Obama a 72% chance of winning and projects that he will get 301 electoral votes.
There are, of course, a number of factors that have contributed to President Obama winning to date. Romney is a pretty bad candidate and many voters likely realize that he is offering little more than a revved up version of the W. Bush economic agenda that created the economic meltdown of 2008. In addition, the economy has been slowly improving under the Obama Presidency, with 4.5 million private sector jobs added over the past 29 months.
But a big part of President Obama's lead is due to the fact that he and the rest of the Democrats are playing to win with a level of intensity that we have seen far too little of from the Democratic Party over much of the past thirty years. The Obama campaign has set forth a clear economic agenda of asking the wealthy to pay more of their fair share while using government to promote job creation, and has also shored up his base with a series of sensible progressive moves on marriage equality, immigration, women's rights, and pushing back against attacks on Planned Parenthood. And, perhaps even more significantly, President Obama and the Democrats have learned the lesson of past elections and taken the initiative of defining Mitt Romney in voters' minds early by pounding away on issues regarding Bain Capital, offshore bank accounts, $100 million IRA, and undisclosed tax returns.
The following two commercials are great examples of just how aggressively the Obama campaign and its allies are working to define Romney.
Mitt Romney's not the solution. He's the problem.
If Mitt Romney wins, the middle class loses.
(Priorities USA Action is responsible for the content of this advertising)
The chattering classes in DC are, predictably, whining that President Obama has purportedly "gone negative." Ross Douthat's column in this past Sunday's New York Times summed up this view, referring to Obama as "Mr. Negative," who he claims is using:
Richard Nixon's style, with a pitch to swing voters that started out negative and has escalated to frank character assassination. In Obama's campaign ads, and in the rhetoric of his aides and allies, Mitt Romney isn't just wrong on specific policies or too right-wing in general. He's part Scrooge, part Gordon Gekko; an un-American, Asia-loving outsourcer; a tax avoider and possibly a white-collar felon.
This charge is ridiculous, especially coming from a columnist and media that have largely stood by as the GOP launched a three-and-a-half effort to tear down President Obama and Democrats with blatant lies (death panels, Sharia law, birthers, claiming the President is a Muslim socialist, the Black Panthers, voter fraud, pretending Obama is a threat to the Second Amendment, etc.). And Romney's campaign has continued the false attacks, with lies about welfare reform and early voting in Ohio being just the latest examples. To claim that Obama is engaged in "character assassination" while largely giving the Romney campaign and Republicans a pass for running a campaign on a series of fabrications takes false equivalency to an entire new level.
What the Obama campaign and its allies are doing is not "going negative," which implies smearing a candidate with difficult to disprove falsehoods or half-truths. Instead, the campaign is simply using actual events to define Mitt Romney as what he truly is - a person who amassed a fortune by destroying good jobs here in the US and shipping jobs overseas, who has invested much of his wealth overseas rather than here in the US, who won't release a complete set of any of his tax returns, who has shown himself to be the "severe conservative" he claims to be, and who would be an utter disaster in international diplomacy. And each of these characteristics and actions of Romney demonstrate clearly why he should not be trusted to handle the complex issues like job creation, economic inequality, and international challenges that face our country.
Yes, the Obama campaign is playing hardball. But no, they are not being unfair or unduly negative. And I, for one, am glad to see the Obama campaign and its allies ignore the tsk-tsking from the inside-the-beltway crowd that never seems to direct such critiques towards actual sleazy politics by conservatives.