The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, to his credit, can’t quite bring himself to equate the Obama campaign’s insinuations that Mitt Romney is culpable in the death of innocents with the Romney campaign’s attacks on President Obama’s controversial welfare executive order. But he does happen to have another justification of the Obama campaign’s rhetorical excesses, and it’s one that should come naturally to Obama: it’s all Bush’s fault.
“What’s different this time,” Milbank writes, “is that the Democrats are employing the same harsh tactics that have been used against them for so long, with so much success.” And what finally pushed the Democrats over the edge was the defeat of John Kerry. Milbank writes that Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, who was caught making false claims about the now-infamous murder ad and her role in orchestrating that line of attack, was especially affected by that election. He writes:
Eight years ago, Cutter was a staffer on the Kerry campaign when the candidate was undone by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacks on his war record. Cutter, like other Democrats, learned a hard truth back then: Umbrage doesn’t win elections. Ruthlessness does.
Now, Milbank gets much about the Kerry election wrong–and as Jonathan wrote, he isn’t the only one to try to use the Swift Boat veterans against the GOP this time–but he’s right in his conclusion: negative campaigning tends to be effective, and the Obama campaign is far more concerned with winning than adhering to honest electioneering. It may be true that Cutter learned from the Kerry debacle to turn this campaign into a carnival of obscene personal attacks and extraordinarily irresponsible unfounded accusations—but that’s not the case with the president.
As Victor Davis Hanson wrote at NRO, Obama knows the “Chicago way” works because he’s never run any other kind of campaign:
Obama demolished his U.S. Senate Democratic primary rival through leaked divorce records. He demolished his initial Republican rival through leaked divorce records. When he got through with Hillary Clinton, the liberal former first lady and U.S. senator had transmogrified into a prevaricating hack and veritable racist, as Bill Clinton lamented the race card being played. John McCain released his health records and his general dismal ranking at Annapolis, leading to a false narrative that he was naturally inattentive and reckless, and scarcely hale, while Obama released neither his medical nor his college records; as Sarah Palin — heretofore a reformist governor of Alaska who in bipartisan fashion had fought special interests — was reduced to a caricature of an uninformed poor (and trashy) mom. All of the above transpired while Barack Obama ran as a “reformer” and proponent of “civility,” who vowed to run a “transparent” campaign of full disclosure, and to leave the old “petty” and “gotcha” politics behind.
The fiction that Democrats like to tell themselves about the 2004 Bush-Kerry election grows out of their refusal to admit what everybody knew: Kerry was an absurd candidate, produced by a bizarre primary season. In the end, they nominated for president a man who made a big show of tossing away his Vietnam War ribbons and smearing his fellow soldiers—to challenge a wartime president, no less. To compensate for this, that nomination took place, as Andrew Ferguson wrote in COMMENTARY, “in a hall festooned with so much military paraphernalia and overrun by so many saluting veterans that you might have thought you were watching a Latin American coup.”
It is also the case that Kerry didn’t think much of the American people he was asking to lead, and it showed. In one of Matt Taibbi’s columns about the 2004 election, he writes that he noticed Kerry was using a quote from George Bernard Shaw in his speeches,
but he always introduces it by saying, “He (Ted Kennedy) quoted the poet who said…” When I asked a Kerry spokesman why Kerry didn’t just say the poet’s name out loud, he told me that the average voter might be confused by the mention of too many academic references.
It turned out that the “average voter” was smarter than Kerry gave him credit for—smart enough to vote against Kerry. The sooner the Democrats make peace with Kerry’s failed candidacy, the better. There are many things Obama was able to blame on Bush, but the negativity of this election isn’t one of them.