“Vote like your ladyparts depend on it.” This is the message that greeted users browsing the Obama campaign website the day before the first presidential debate. The message was clear, and it was petty. If you saw the message and thought “gee, how becoming of the president. How grand a message,” you were one of very few.
Sometimes in politics, fortunes change abruptly. Yet sometimes political fortunes slowly slip away, and a campaign is left to wonder, at the end of the road, “what could have been?” For the Obama/Biden 2012 campaign, the case is very much the latter. In 13 days, voters will go to the polls and cast their ballots. If the president loses, it will have been the result of what can best be described as political malpractice. It is a tenet of political campaigns that a candidate must consistently “stay on message,” hammering home a central theme in stump speeches, debates, fundraisers, and other events. That is why you may hear a candidate repeat the same line ten times, or repeat the same argument in a debate.
Yet while former Governor Romney executed this plan impressively, sticking to the sluggish economy and foreign policy issues, the Obama message was usually a distraction, not an issue. “Ladyparts” was just one of many distractions, as the Obama campaign consistently resorted to attacks on Romney, or refused to disavow attacks made by its political allies. While Romney addressed the failed stimulus, the Obama campaign attacked Romney’s success. When Romney spoke of Medicare reform, the DNC ran ads attacking Romney’s tax returns and featured Ann Romney’s dressage horse, which she used for her multiple sclerosis therapy. While there is no evidence that the Obama campaign collaborated with the DNC to make the ad, the campaign still failed to disavow the ad. When a pro-Obama SuperPAC ran an ad suggesting that Romney was responsible for the death of a steel worker’s wife, it took nearly two weeks for the Obama campaign to disavow the shameful scare tactic. While Romney proposed a five-point economic plan, Obama made contraception a major issue by inviting Sandra Fluke to speak at campaign events.
While Romney spoke about the deficit, the Obama campaign suggested Romney was either a liar or a felon for not releasing his tax returns. Romney addressed currency manipulation as Obama insisted that Romney held investments in the Cayman Islands and China. It is worth noting that the president makes similar investments, although these investments were made indirectly through an Illinois accounting firm.
On Friday, Romney slammed Obama’s “incredible shrinking campaign,” adding that “this is a big country with big opportunities and big challenges. And they keep talking about smaller and smaller things.” The trend continued following the first presidential debate, as the president made Big Bird a central focus of his campaign. And as democratic strategists threw up their arms and Romney continued to surge in the polls, you would have thought that it was clearly time for the Obama campaign to shift its message to more substantive issues. But old habits die hard.
During the second debate, Romney mentioned that he was given binders full of qualified women for consideration in his cabinet by women’s groups. This statement, while not artfully worded, carried a clear message in response to an important question. But the following day, the Obama campaign had found a new distraction of the week: “binders full of women.” Biden waved a binder around during a campaign stop, while Obama has brought up the issue on multiple campaign stops.
If, in 13 days, America elects a new president, it will not be the result of a single debate, nor any other isolated incident. Voters will have chosen vision over distraction.