Editorial: You expected a nice presidential campaign?

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

"Politics ain't bean-bag."

So said the fictitious Mr. Dooley, the Irishman created by Chicago newspaperman Finley Peter Dunne back in 1895. The rest of Dooley's fabricated comment provides the definition of that phrase: "'Tis a man's game, an' women, childer, cripples an' prohybitionists 'd do well to keep out iv it."

Readers will forgive the political incorrectness of the 19th century, but the point was that it's a rough business, politics, not for the faint of heart.

As presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is now discovering, with the Obama campaign taking off the gloves against him in a series of attack ads, TV appearances and stump speeches. They highlight the Republican's difficult-to-identify-with personal wealth, criticize his refusal to release more of his tax returns, slam his previous business relationships with the "pioneers of outsourcing," characterize him as a "corporate buyout specialist," question his "millions" in a Swiss bank account and his use of offshore "tax havens," even ridicule his singing voice. An accusation the Romney camp found particularly offensive came from an Obama aide who said he was either "misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony, or he was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments."

At first the Romney campaign was defensive, telling the New York Times that "as the failures of his presidency become more evident, Barack Obama has resorted to the tactics of a typical politician: dishonest and totally unsubstantiated attacks meant to distract from his own record by smearing the reputation of his opponent." Then they demanded an apology, which arguably made them appear to be whining and weak. Then they insisted the negativity was backfiring, with polls showing the candidates neck and neck, which begged the question: Why complain about it, then? Finally, with conservative publications from the Wall Street Journal to The Weekly Standard scolding the Romney campaign's timidity, the candidate decided to give as good as he gets, unveiling a strategy that shines a spotlight on "Obama's political payoffs versus middle class layoffs."

Romney is something of a "typical politician" himself, no stranger to mixing it up when he deems it necessary. He previously has not been shy about linking Obama to the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright, even at the risk of making his own Mormonism an issue. One still vividly recalls his speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention, in which he took considerable liberties with historical accuracy and did his utmost to turn the word "liberal" into a profanity.

Candidates go negative because, as any veteran political operative will tell you, it works. The more vulnerable they are, the nastier they get. Anyone who's been paying attention had to figure this too-close-to-call race to turn into one of the more bare-knuckle brawls in memory.

If Romney and his handlers ever thought the Obama team was going to play nice, they don't know or severely underestimate Chicago politics. One would like to think there are boundaries here - alleging felonious behavior without significant evidence may cross one - but it would not be wise for Americans to count on that, or even on any fidelity to honesty.

In fact, neither guy wants to run on his record. Obama cannot hold up the economy or the nation's jobs picture as one of his shining masterpieces, and Romney can't run on his record as governor of Massachusetts because, relatively speaking, he was a liberal then. He obviously has concluded that there is more to hurt than help him from his record at Bain Capital, the private equity firm that he helped start and that made him fabulously rich.

Ugly? Get used to it, and learn to duck if you're somehow stuck in the middle between missilized beanbags.

Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.