The tone of this year’s presidential campaign between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been very different from the the atmosphere of the 2008 race, when Obama squared off against then-Sen. Hillary Clinton and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.
Gone are the mantras of “hope” and “change.” Negative campaign advertisements have taken their place, like one recently released by the Obama campaign attacking Romney for his time at Bain Capital. This negative campaigning, according to New York Times columnist David Brooks, hurts not just Romney, but also Obama.
“I sort of think this debate hurts both candidates,” Brooks said Friday on PBS’s “NewsHour.” “I think Bain is not popular. It is not well-known. Most Americans don’t know what Bain is, but it is not popular, the idea that he was in some sort of weird consulting group. It’s not popular. And so I do think they are exploiting it for a reason. Nonetheless, I do think hurts Obama, because it makes him look like a very conventional politician. I don’t think, if you are a liberal Democrat, you want to be seen attacking business. People may not love business. They like it a lot better than government. And they don’t want to see an anti-business Democrat.”
Brooks called one ad, which blamed Romney for a steel plant closing, little more than “a whole series of falsehoods.”
“And, finally, I just think the Obama administration, or the campaign has demeaned itself with a series of falsehoods. They released this ad which had a whole series of falsehoods. The one was that this steel company, GST, was a healthy company until Bain took it over, which the ad suggests — completely untrue.”
Brooks added that some of these attacks blamed Romney for Bain’s activities long after the former Massachusetts governor had left the company.
“Second, [the idea] that Romney was part of throwing people out on the street when they finally did have to close this failing company,” he continued. “He was long gone from Bain. And then, finally, that these private equity companies load debt onto businesses. There is a study, though, reported in my newspaper. There is no more debt, no more default in these companies than in other comparable companies. So, it’s this whole series of things which were untrue, which make Obama seem much more like a conventional politician.”
Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus agreed generally with Brooks, but also placed some of the blame on Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker’s remarks last Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Well, in a sense, David is right — they are both hurt,” Marcus said. “I think one of the reasons we’re talking about Bain for a second week in a row is that we had the experience on Sunday of the Obama surrogate Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who said he found it nauseating that these attacks were coming up. If I were the candidates, I would get together very quietly — and this is my modest proposal to them — just have a pact that whatever — that your surrogate is going to say something really dumb and damaging to you. My surrogate is going to say really dumb and damaging to me. Let’s pretend they don’t exist.”
Brooks compared Obama’s 2008 campaign to his 2012 effort, noting the differences and suggesting Obama is running the risk of turning away a large number of independents.
“To me, one of the major questions of the Obama campaign is — he campaigned in 2008 as an untraditional candidate,” Brooks said. “Now, he did plenty of negative ads and all that. Nonetheless, he was something very different. People were disgusted by politics could really be inspired by Obama, because it was a very different campaign. And, privately, they would say, ‘We’re not going run a Clinton-type campaign. We’re not going to be conventional politicians.’”
“And so they really got a lot of independents excited,” Brooks continued. “Now they are running a completely traditional campaign, literally regurgitating the exact same ad that Ted Kennedy ran against Mitt Romney. And so have they decided, we have just got to win this way? Or are they losing something? I think they’re losing something by being so conventional.”