As someone who has long loved covering politics and the people who practice it, I should be on the edge of my seat as the presidential campaign kicks into higher gear and the focus unambiguously settles on Obama vs. Romney.
And I am excited for the privilege of following another hard-fought battle over the most powerful job in the world. The president holds enormous sway over major issues such as taxes, health care, education, international and military policy, and potentially who sits on the highest federal court in the land.
I also plead guilty to enjoying the sheer fun, at times, of covering sharp, wit-testing political combat and trying to figure out who outsmarted whom.
But with 28 weeks until Election Day, I confess to a simultaneous sense of foreboding, even dread, that the next 194 days may be so filled with negative attacks that many Americans could be so turned off they will stay home and not vote — or do so only begrudgingly. Certainly, the message from the primary contest among the Republicans was that trashing the other guy pays off.
In January, the week before the Florida primary, the TV airwaves and Internet were filled with messages from Mitt Romney’s campaign aimed at Newt Gingrich. “Speaker Gingrich’s Denial of His Lobbying Work in Washington Has Reached Comical Proportions,” “An Overdose of Grandiose” and “Earth to Newt: Tell the Truth,” are just three of the scores of public statements that streamed out of the Romney camp in the days before Romney beat Gingrich 46 percent to 32 percent.
The next month, as Romney faced a challenge from Rick Santorum in Romney’s once home state of Michigan, the target shifted. “Rick Santorum: Abandoning His Principles for His Own Political Advantage” and “Santorum’s Repeated and Discredited Falsehoods on Health Care” were just two of the headlines on emails that flooded the inboxes of reporters and others following the campaign. Perhaps this is why Santorum hasn’t endorsed Romney yet, although he says he’ll vote for him.
Since Romney for practical purposes sealed the nomination, more of his focus has been aimed at President Obama. This has led to nonstop messages that use the word “fail” or “failure” in connection with Obama policies on the economy, health care and issues that matter to young people. One item quoted an Iowa Republican who said the “future under Obama should have every American on edge.” The rhetoric has ramped up in the past few days with accusations of “false promises.”
For its part, the Obama camp has long had its own heavy artillery aimed at Romney: The super PAC supporting the president, Priorities USA Action, recently blasted Romney’s “false statement on student loans” soon after calling on him to “stop stonewalling” and release his income tax returns.
But these attacks are just the tip of what is sure to grow into a massive flow of negative messages, with each side criticizing the other.
My hope, though, is that this will be overwhelmed by a healthy national debate about the great questions facing America’s next leader: What should be done about the country’s huge debt? What changes can be made in programs such as Social Security and Medicare to secure their long life? How should the tax code be reformed? What is the proper role of the federal government in the early 21st century?
Those are some of my hopes for the campaign. I’d love to hear from you: What would you like to see discussed during the next six months?