I didn’t see this coming from the Obama campaign, and I suppose I should have. The President has shown a willingness to abandon virtually every one of the principles his piously stood for during his “transformational” 2008 campaign; the unifying, bi-partisan, President-of -all-Americans has meticulously worked to seed distrust and enmity between black and white, Anglo and Hispanic, business owners and labor, rich and poor, non-Catholic and Catholic, young and old, men and women, and, of course, Republicans and Democrats, as a desperate and cynical strategy to stay in power, disregarding the inevitable harm such a scorched earth strategy will do to the nation. If anyone can recall in our history such a total breach of integrity by a major American political figure, please enlighten me. The closest I can find is President Obama’s 2008 opponent, John McCain, who thoroughly disgraced himself to fend off a tea party challenger in his 2010 Senate bid in Arizona….and it really isn’t close.
Still, I didn’t expect the President to resort to Swiftboating, the political tactic that derives its name from the attacks on John Kerry’s military heroics from some of his fellow Vietnam swift boat commanders (“Swift Boat Veterans for Truth”) who financed a devastating series of negative campaign ads alleging that Kerry’s decorations for valor were based on fraud. Though the ads were based on rumor, hearsay and animus, they put Kerry on the defensive in his 2004 campaign against President Bush. I doubt that the smear really lost Kerry the election—he was a terrible candidate—but Democrats have continued to cite the Swiftboat ads as proof of conservative perfidy and ruthlessness. They, of course, would never stoop so low.
The word “swiftboating” is now firmly established in political lexicon as “fabricating a damaging fantasy for partisan reasons, that hits the politician where he’s seen to be strongest…to associate a political opponent through a lie that attacks his or her credibility, wrapped in a smear campaign, that hits at the heart of an issue that makes his candidacy popular” The only way a Democratic President could justify such a tactic on a grand scale would be hypocrisy, “ends justify the means” utilitarianism (that is, the bad kind), and a handful of rationalizations, like “They started it,” “Tit for Tat,” “They are the bad guys, we’re the good guys,” and of course, “Everybody does it.”
Yet it was made clear last week that the Obama campaign is now fully committed to a Swiftboating strategy against Mitt Romney, in the hopes that voters won’t bother to check the facts, pay attention to the wave of news media—yes, even the Obama rooting section news media!—rebuttals of the attacks as deliberately misleading, or retch at the President’s deteriorating character. The new word for Swiftboating is apparently “Baining,” as the President has “personally approved” attack ad falsely claiming that Romney, as the CEO of Bain Capital, “outsourced jobs” overseas, when there is no evidence to support that accusation. The usually Obama-friendly Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s Factchecker, rated that ad as a four Pinocchio lie, his worst catagory. Undeterred—polls showed that the lie was working, you see (“How’s that hopey-changey thing working out for ya?”), so why stop?—the Obama campaign then doubled down, and went full-swiftboat.
Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, told the media that Romney had “full control” of Bain during this time he claimed too have left Bain to run the 2002 Winter Olympics and was “therefore directly responsible” for decisions made at companies in which Bain invested. “Either Mitt Romney, through his own words and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony,” Cutter said. “Or he was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments.” Despicable. No non-Democratic Party allied media entity supports that characterization, and the investigation by the Annenberg Foundation’s non-partisan FactCheck.org found the claim to be categorically false:
“None of the SEC filings show that Romney was anything but a passive, absentee owner during that time, as both Romney and Bain have long said. It should not surprise anyone that Romney retained certain titles while he was working out the final disposition of his ownership, for example. We see nothing to contradict the statement that a Bain spokesman issued in response to the Globe article: “Bain Capital, July 12: Due to the sudden nature of Mr. Romney’s departure, he remained the sole stockholder for a time while formal ownership was being documented and transferred to the group of partners who took over management of the firm in 1999. Accordingly, Mr. Romney was reported in various capacities on SEC filings during this period. Jill E. Fisch, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and co-director of the Institute for Law and Economics, said Romney would not have committed a felony by listing himself as managing director — even if he now claims he had no role in running the company after February 1999. There is no legal obligation to describe how active one is in the day-to-day management of the company, she said. And just because he held title of managing director doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s responsible for decisions like layoffs or outsourcing.”
Suggesting that a candidate is a felon when there is no evidence whatsoever that this is the case is in the same category as claiming that a veteran’s purple hearts and Silver Star weren’t based on real acts of valor, and arguably worse. Romney has demanded an apology, as he should, and the Obama camp has refused.
Yes, that revolting tactic that Democrats have railed against for eight years is suddenly acceptable when a Democratic President is in re-election trouble. And unlike 2004, where the tactic was adopted by an independent group (supposedly) uncoordinated with the Bush campaign, this time there is no plausible deniability. This is President Obama’s campaign, and he is accountable.
Somehow I didn’t expect this from the President who ran on the promise to purge America of old politics and dirty tricks.
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at firstname.lastname@example.org.