Friday, 20 July 2012

Is Obama's newfound aggression a good idea?

 So the latest news in the American Presidential election campaign is that the Obama machine are firing volley after volley at Mitt Romney's personal financial situation. Release your tax returns, they say; come clean about when you worked at your private equity firm; tell us where all your money comes from (and goes to); and so on. Self-appointed 'experts' among the commentariat in Washington are shaking their heads about the Romney team. They're all over the place, and day after day their man is taking (to coin a phrase) a terrible beating.

There's a long history to this, of course. I know I always say that, but it's true. Lyndon Johnson obliterated Barry Goldwater's right-wing campaign in the 1964 election via a series of broadasts playing a dread-inducing nuclear countdown over pictures of a little girl with a flower. The message: you can't trust Goldwater. You know he's crazy. Then there was Democrat Michael Dukakis and the prison passes he was in favour of while a Governor - allowing out one inmate who went on to rape and stab a young couple. Bush Senior's campaign made mincemeat of him on that one in 1988. Bush Junior's campaign blunted John Kerry's greatest advantage - the fact he was a bona fide war hero - by 'swiftboating' him in 2004, raising question after question about his 'real' record in Vietnam. Most of this was a load of bogus hooey, but it stuck.

But Obama ran in 2008 as the candidate of 'Hope'. Of changing Washington and its culture. Part of his appeal is that he's reasoned, calm and good in a crisis. And his likeability ratings are almost certainly buoying up his numbers even among voters who don't like his policies. Will slinging mud and pointing the finger at his rich, 'privileged' opponent really help him all that much?

It certainly doesn't seem to have done in the polls, in which the President's numbers have even sagged a little. The Obama team, of course, want to paint their opponent as a rich plutocrat who doesn't care much about the average American - an impression he's given before. But the risk is that they come across as just a bunch of revenge-crazy street-fighters out to prove that they can't be pushed around (unlike Dukakis and Kerry).

I wonder. I just wonder. That's all I'm saying.