The Policy Is Personal

We often think of character attacks and issue attacks as being two entirely separate things, with the former being illegitimate and the latter being legitimate. But that's not necessarily true. First, both kinds of attacks can be fair or unfair, accurate or inaccurate, relevant or irrelevant. Second, a clever campaign will weave the two together into a coherent whole.

That's what the Obama campaign will be doing in the coming months. The issue attacks tell you the what, and the character attacks tell you the why. They'll be telling voters that Romney wants to cut taxes for rich people and threaten important social programs like Medicare (true, as it happens). But in order for that charge to take hold, they need to also explain to people why Romney would want to do such a thing. That's where stuff like this comes in:

 

That, from the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action, is a more lighthearted take on this ad, the one featuring Romney singing "America the Beautiful." As Alec MacGillis tells us, evidence is emerging that the "America the Beautiful" ad is particularly potent, more so than any of the Romney campaign's ads. The point of both of them isn't that Romney doesn't love America but that he's a selfish rich guy who'll do anything to get richer, including ship your job overseas and avoid paying the taxes he ought to.

(For the record, some of the claims in the Priorities USA ad are questionable. For instance, the claim that Romney keeps millions in the Cayman Islands "to avoid U.S. taxes" hasn't been proved; Romney says that the purpose of setting up the funds there was not so that he could avoid paying U.S. taxes but so that foreign investors in the funds could avoid paying taxes in their own countries. I'll let you judge whether that makes them any less problematic.)

As we saw four years ago, the Obama team is very good at constructing a narrative and sticking to it, no matter what the news of the day might be. That's why you haven't seen them talking much about Romney's history of 180-degree changes in position. Though there has never been a candidate more vulnerable to the flip-flopper charge than Mitt Romney, the Obama campaign has determined that the heartless-rich-guy charge is the more effective one, so it's going to bring everything back to that ground.

In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that came out yesterday, Romney edged out Obama by 43-36 on which candidate has "good ideas for how to improve the economy." Now, if more than one out of ten people could actually tell you what Mitt Romney's ideas for improving the economy are, I'd be shocked. But on the question of which candidate would be better at "looking out for the middle class," Obama led by 49-33. The Obama campaign is well on its way to establishing with voters that Romney doesn't care much about them, and once the campaign gets to discussing Romney's policy plans, it will already have half its argument made.

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