Negative Campaign

A predictable outcome of an election cycle that favors attacks rather than matters of substance.

   Mitt Romney seems like a nice-enough guy, which is why the secretly recorded statement in which he insulted and belittled nearly half of American voters while speaking to a group of big-dollar donors in Florida in May is shocking. At the same time, his full-throated embrace of the worst of class and ethnicity-baiting ideas — and wrong ones, to boot — could be seen as a predictable outcome of an election cycle that favors attacks rather than matters of substance.
    Mother Jones reported that the comments were made at a May 17 $50,000-a-plate fund-raiser in Boca Raton, Fla., hosted by Marc Leder, a wealthy financier. To recap them briefly, Mr. Romney said 47 percent of United States voters “pay no income tax,” are “dependent upon government,” and believe themselves “entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.” These Americans, Mr. Romney said, were going to vote for the Obama-Biden ticket “no matter what” and, presumably, not worth his attention. He went on to say that had his father “been born of, uh, Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot at winning this.” (The comments were heard in the recording of the event provided to the magazine.)
    The path seems direct between the Republican-controlled House of Representatives’ declaring war on the Barack Obama presidency, through the bitter primary months, to Mr. Romney’s expressing the view that almost half of Americans do not deserve his attention while some other portion vote mindlessly along ethnic lines.
        The conservative columnist David Brooks ably refuted Mr. Romney’s statement this week, writing in The New York Times that the “people who receive the disproportionate share of government spending are not big-government lovers. They are Republicans. They are senior citizens. They are white men with high-school degrees.” So much for, as he wrote, Mr. Romney’s imaginary division of the nation into “makers” and “moochers.”
This is not the only intemperate statement made by Mr. Romney in recent weeks. His rapid and, to many, distasteful, response to the killing of a U.S. ambassador in Libya underscores the say-anything nature of contemporary politics. In the vacuum that stands in for reasonable discourse, what Mr. Romney utters is, sadly, par for the course.
    If recent weeks indicate anything, this is not a high point for politics in this country.