The Boston Globe
“I’m the first one to confess that the spirit that I brought to Washington, that I wanted to see instituted, where we weren’t constantly in a political slugfest . . . I haven’t fully accomplished that. Haven’t even come close in some cases . . . My biggest disappointment is that we haven’t changed the tone in Washington as much as I would have liked.”
— President Obama on “60 Minutes,” Sept. 23
At every milestone in Obama’s journey to the White House — from the keynote address in Boston that put him on the national radar screen to his inaugural address in 2009 — he held himself out as a healer. Skeptics might note that partisanship and rancor were as old as American democracy itself, but Obama insisted that would change when he was president. The toxic style of politics wasn’t inescapable. Give me the highest office in the land, he assured a rapturous crowd in Ohio two days before the 2008 election, and “we can end it once and for all.”
Millions of voters believed him. They took to heart his vow to transfigure American public life. They looked forward to the uplifting leadership he promised. What they got instead was the most polarizing and divisive presidency in modern times. The civility and goodwill that were to be Obama’s touchstone? “I haven’t fully accomplished that,” he concedes. “Haven’t even come close.”
As the 2012 campaign heads into the home stretch, a story in Politico notes that “Obama and his top campaign aides have engaged far more frequently in character attacks and personal insults than the Romney campaign.” The man who won the presidency by decrying “partisanship and pettiness and immaturity” now seeks reelection by deploying slurs and aspersions with abandon: A key aide suggests that Mitt Romney’s financial filings may amount to a felony. The vice president claims that Republicans want to put voters ” back in chains.” An Obama campaign video likens Romney to “a vampire.”
“The Obama-led attacks on Romney’s character,” Politico concludes, “have been both relentless and remorseless.”
There is nothing new about ruthlessness in politics. For all of Obama’s talk about not wanting “to pit red America against blue America,” it was always foreseeable that his reelection campaign would eventually become a merciless march to the sea.