Here is the problem.
When you become desperate, and spring to manipulate gaffes, misstatements, over-heard comments and poor choices of words into unfair and disproportionate campaign attacks, you set the ground rules for your opponents as well. Unless you really have a bombshell—I’d say Romney’s 47% comment was a bombshell—the tactic is a poor risk, as well as being unethical. No candidate, nor any of his or her supporters, should try to make political points from off-the- cuff remarks, unless they reach Todd Akin-like levels of offensiveness and stupidity. They should apply the Golden Rule, for their own protection, as well as the principle’s ethical virtues.Indeed, Presidential candidates should pledge—to each other and to the public—to run campaigns about substance, not slips of the tongue.
I would have thought the Democrats would have learned this; I would think any politician would have learned this. But they are worried, and falling in the polls, so when Mitt Romney awkwardly talked about his “binders full of women” in the second debate, liberal pundits and Democrats decided to make this the latest way to ridicule Mitt, taking its place aside “I like to fire people,” and “corporations are people,” but sillier than either, though no more unfair. The attacks on those statements were unethical; this attack was outrageous. More important, it re-emphasized that in this dirty campaign, intentionally warped and unforgiving interpretations of statements that the candidates wish they had said better are acceptable weapons of choice, as unfair and misleading as that choice is.
So, as a result, when their candidate makes a far, far worse gaffe, as Obama did by telling “the Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart that “If four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal,” they can expect no mercy from the media, their conservative adversaries, or anyone else, including me. Is the statement as bad as it sounds? No. Does it show that Obama doesn’t care about the death of his ambassador and three other Americans? No. Will it be perceived that way anyway? Yes, absolutely, and because it will, the Republicans will run with it hard, and no Democrat who harped on Romney’s more trivial foot-stuffing exercises can credibly complain.
So they are going to have to live with the mother of one of those slain in Benghazi, telling the press,
“It’s insensitive to say my son is not very optimal – he is also very dead. I’ve not been “optimal” since he died and the past few weeks have been pure hell.”
And they are going to have to put up with this:
and, ultimately, this:
I hate to see Presidential elections decided on mistakes that don’t mean what they are made out to mean. Michael Dukakis wasn’t showing he was a soulless zombie when he answered the question about his wife’s hypothetical rape and murder like an actuary. The Democrats might have taken a lesson from how this two-minute miscalculation was used to define their candidate right out of the race in 1988 and strived to take a higher road, but no: they took the opposite lesson. They have been using similar moments to try to stereotype Mitt Romney, most recently stooping the lowest yet with the “binder” nonsense. They can’t complain now, after a Dukakis-like comment from Obama hands the GOP a deadly, if unfair, weapon, because they decreed, by their conduct, that these were the rules they were playing by. Call it “what goes around,” call it being hoisted by one’s own petard, call it poetic justice, or karma, or just desserts, but I think Obama’s comment will hurt him more than all of Romney’s gaffes combined. I don’t want to hear a single Democrat complain about how unfair it is because he was repeating Jon Stewart’s words, because of course he cares. They knew about the Golden Rule, and agreed to play Cheap Shot Derby instead. Now they are losing at their own game.
It’s a lousy way to decide who will be President,
But it’s good way to remind us to practice The Golden Rule.