Obama road tests sneers, jeers directed at Romney

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama sneered at former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney today during a long speech in which he pressured his audience of news editors to portray the GOP as radical and his own policies as “centrist.”

After slamming the GOP’s long-term-budget plan, Obama declared that “one of my potential opponents, Gov. Romney … even called it ‘marvelous.’”

Obama paused for effect: “Which is a word you don’t often hear when describing a budget. That’s a word you don’t often hear generally.”

Obama’s audience responded with laughter.

The presidential sneer is likely part of the administration’s expected effort to portray Romney as strange and unlikeable, in contrast to casting Obama as a centrist defender of middle-class values and the nation’s blue-collar manufacturing sector.

Romney ignored Obama’s taunt and pushed his own election strategy Tuesday.

At an event in Wisconsin, he said Obama is out-of-touch with the country’s unemployment rate, record deficits, record debt and record gas prices.

“Years of flying around on Air Force One, surrounded by an adoring staff of true believers telling you what a great job you are doing — well, that might be enough to make you a little out of touch,” Romney said, prompting laughs from his audience. (RELATED: Obama pushes editors, judges to see him as ‘centrist,’ GOP as ‘radical’)

In 2008, Obama also used a character-attack strategy to separate then-Sen. Hillary Clinton from undecided Democratic primary voters.

At numerous events, Obama and his aides belittled the former first lady and portrayed her as unpleasant and distant. In January 2008, for example, Obama condescended to her during a TV debate, saying, “you’re likable enough, Hillary.”

Obama coupled this 2008 character campaign with a promise to unite the nation. “I think it is fair to say that I believe I can bring the country together more effectively than [Clinton] can,” Obama proclaimed during a 2007 event in New Hampshire. “If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be running.”

After sneering at Romney on Tuesday, Obama again called for the county to unite.

“Responsibility — to each other and our country — this isn’t a partisan feeling. … It’s patriotism. And if we keep that in mind, and uphold our obligations to one another and to this larger enterprise that is America, then I have no doubt that we will continue our long and prosperous journey as the greatest nation on earth,” he said.

In 2012, Obama’s character campaign will likely be helped by Romney’s Mormon religion, wealth, periodic gaffes and cautiousness in social situations with voters.

Romney is pushing back by trying to show voters that he recognizes their problems and hopes.

“In this last year, I have been all over this country, from student union cafeterias to kitchen tables, from factory break rooms to boardrooms, and I’ve heard frustration and anger but rarely hopelessness,” he told voters in Wisconsin on Tuesday. “Many Americans have given up on this president but they haven’t ever thought about giving up. Not on themselves. Not on each other. And not on America.”

During his election races and his eight-year tenure in the White House, George W. Bush overcame similar character-based campaign criticisms. Bush was charming and talkative in private — although often profane — but he curbed his public events to minimize the public verbal improvisations that infuriated his influential cultural critics from the media sector and Hollywood.

In 2012, Obama will be aided by his own allies in the culture sector. Already the producers of “Mad Men” included a moment in the show’s season premiere in which a character derided Romney’s late father, the former Michigan governor, as a “clown.”

Obama’s strategist, David Axelrod, quickly used a interview on CBS to magnify the jibe by declaring that Romney “must watch ‘Mad Men’ and think it’s the evening news.”

Obama will likely also be helped by the establishment media, whose American Society of Newspaper Editors had invited Obama to speak at their annual meeting Tuesday.

The assembled editors and executives laughed at Obama’s “marvelous” mockery of Romney and applauded once the speech ended.

Prior to his critical speech, Obama was praised lavishly by Dean Singleton, chairman of the board of the Associated Press.

Obama “inherited the headwinds of the worst economic recession since the great depression [but] he pushed through congress the biggest economic recovery plan history and what a government reorganization of two of the big three American automakers to save them from oblivion,” Singleton said.

“Many Democrats believe his agenda doesn’t go far enough and many Republicans believe it goes way too far… the 1 percent and the 99 percent are at each other’s throats… The only thing anybody seems willing to compromise on is — I can’t think of anything,” he said, echoing Obama’s campaign trail-talking points, and prompting laughter from his industry peers.

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