The Republican primaries may eventually crown a winner. But none of the candidates will have earned the mantle of a leader.
They have done a disservice to their party and worse, the American electorate, by a bloodbath of negative campaigning.
Mitt Romney is the best-financed candidate, and he and his supporters have spent this fortune flooding the electorate with attack ads. “Know what makes Barack Obama happy? Newt Gingrich’s baggage,” says a Romney spot set in an airport terminal, coyly hinting at Gingrich’s ethical transgressions.
The ad appeared in response to Gingrich’s win in South Carolina, where a pricey pro-Gingrich ad portrayed Romney as a corporate raider no less ruthless than the villain Michael Douglas played in “Wall Street.”
Rick Santorum’s supporters unleashed a commercial in Michigan, accusing Romney of “turning his back” on the state by not supporting President Obama’s bailout of the auto industry. But the ad failed to mention that Santorum himself was opposed to the bailout.
And how has Ron Paul pushed his libertarian agenda? In part, by calling his opponents “fakes.”
The ads are often clever but insubstantial, doing less to promote a candidate’s goals than to caricature the opposition. In comparison, last time around Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton waged campaigns that focused on their own positives. Their candidacies, for the most part, maintained the decorum of adults vying for an important job, while the present campaigners display all the maturity of aggressive kids playing king of the hill.
The 2012 primaries may be harbingers of the future. These are the first presidential campaigns waged in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allows Super PACs to pour unlimited amounts of cash into radio and television spots. These Super PACs pretend to be independent of the candidates, and they give the candidates at least the appearance of distance from the smear tactics.
But the American people aren’t fooled. They’re getting more turned off about the candidates, and more outraged at the way money is distorting our politics.
Darryl Lorenzo Wellington is a writer living in Santa Fe, N.M. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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