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2012 Election: Mitt, Barack, Time-Out!

The Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns were already unattractive. Now they've become downright absurd.


President Barack Obama does not like his challenger, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Romney returns the favor. Both men want a seat in the Oval Office starting in January 2013, and are hell-bent on attaining their goal.

Everyone understands this by now. What more is there to say?

Quite a lot, apparently. Obama and Romney have both unleashed campaigns that are breathtakingly nasty, and not too particular as to facts.

The latest round of sniping is especially galling for anyone still naive enough to hope for a shred of civility or sense in this increasingly brutal contest.

The Obama campaign is tripling down on its efforts to paint Romney as dishonest, out of touch, hypocritical, and, well, just too rich to be president. On top of that, Romney can’t sing, as Obama’s latest attack ad makes abundantly clear.

As Romney struggles with a painfully off-key rendition of what he claims is his favorite song, “America the Beautiful,” text flashes across the screen recapping charges we now all know by heart: Romney’s firms outsource jobs, he is out of touch with the common man and exploits tax loopholes by parking his wealth in places like Switzerland, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands.

In his campaign appearances in Virginia Saturday, the president continued railing against Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, now calling him a "pioneer of outsourcing."

On Thursday, The Boston Globe reported that Romney remained at the helm of his private equity firm until 2002, not 1999 as previously stated.

The rationale for keeping these charges in the public eye is clear: Many of Obama’s claims about Romney’s dismal record on outsourcing at Bain hinge on the governor being responsible for actions that occurred after he allegedly relinquished control to take over the Salt Lake City Olympics.

Romney, who actually was in Salt Lake for most of 1999-2001, had to tap-dance around that fact when he wanted to run for governor of Massachusetts in 2002. His opponents accused him of not meeting the residency requirements, and Romney was forced to inflate his occasional appearances at Bain as much as possible to make himself seem more Massachusetts and less Utah.

Now Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, is trying to paint Romney as a felon, for lying to the Securities and Exchange Commission about his departure from Bain. Her unwise comments were greeted with anger and disdain by the Romney campaign, while Obama supporters rubbed their hands in glee at what they saw as the final nail in Romney’s coffin.

Problem is, the controversy seems more smoke than fire.

CNN’s John King says Romney is telling the truth about his departure from Bain; the Washington Post’s fact checker also says the Globe’s story does not hold up.

Romney is now releasing ads that attack Obama for misrepresenting the governor’s record on Bain. He also made the rounds of the news shows on Friday to complain that the Obama campaign’s latest tactics were “disgusting” and “beneath the dignity of the presidency.”

He may be right.

We are witnessing a campaign that has degenerated into attacks about the attacks.

The Obama campaign has to date spent almost $100 million on ads in so-called “battleground states,” where the outcome is still in doubt.

Most of these ads are designed to discredit his opponent — although some miss the mark a bit.

One Obama ad focuses exclusively on Romney’s negative comments on the president — an odd tactic for political promotion. Most of the 90-second spot shows the former governor criticizing the president. Only at the very end does it become clear that the ad is really an assault on Romney’s negativity.

The result is a campaign that almost nobody seems able to follow any more. No real issues are being discussed, but some very foul-smelling mud is being slung in all directions.

Polls have shown that attack ads have limited value in swaying voters; the ads tend to reinforce what people already believe.

But they do play an important role in turning people off. In conversations with friends lately, I have yet to find anyone who is paying much attention to the latest flap.

“It is just too depressing to follow this campaign,” seems to be the general consensus.

If either candidate wants to have anyone show up at the polls in November, he may be best served by getting away from the viciousness and back to the issues.

Play nice, boys.