Last week the Washington Post ran a piece on presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s high-school years, in which he supposedly was cruel to a shy, perhaps gay fellow student. The piece, mirabile dictu, appeared in the middle of the Biden-Obama reversal on gay marriage. Errors were spotted almost as soon as it was published, and the essay was summarily denounced as nonfactual by the family of the supposed victim of Romney’s supposed half-century-old callousness.
Of more interest was the reaction to the story. Aside from Romney’s gracious acknowledgment that he might have done something in his teens that he was not proud of (although he could not remember the Post’s hazing incident), and aside from the errors of fact pointed out in the Post story, apparent Romney supporters hit back hard — and in equally trivial fashion. If Romney was an insensitive preppie, well then, so was Obama — and for the matter, we had the punkish young Joe Biden. Almost immediately, all over the Internet, Obama’s own voice was heard reading from Dreams from My Father about his ancient drug use while in prep school, and about earlier unkind treatment of a middle-school girl chum. If high school is fair game in these doggy wars, then why not seventh and eighth grade?
For a year, we had heard from the liberal media the old tale of Seamus the dog, as a sort of Aesop’s fable warning about Mitt Romney’s innate cruelty. You see, on a family vacation, Romney in purportedly callous fashion put the family dog, Seamus, into a custom carrier on top of the family car. Forget about America borrowing $5 trillion in three years; worry instead about a dog on a car roof three decades ago.
But after yet another serial telling, suddenly the Romney supporters fought back: If Romney had confessed to putting the dog out like a masthead to the winds, Obama in his memoirs confessed to eating dogs! In short order, the Internet was flooded with Photoshopped images of cynophagia — as Obama munched on dachshund sandwiches and terrier burgers. I guess the point was that Americans would prefer putting Spot on top of the car to eating him.
The same trump had earlier happened with the “war against women.” Team Obama saw an opening with Rush Limbaugh’s crude “slut” putdown of Sandra Fluke — for which he later apologized — and attempted to inflate the slur as something emblematic of right-wing misogyny. But again it was not to be.
Limbaugh apologized; Limbaugh did not give money to the Romney campaign and indeed opposed his nomination in the primaries; and Limbaugh’s slur at least could be printed in family newspapers — in contrast to liberal Bill Maher’s. The latter’s profanity-laced and misogynistic sick rants against conservative women could not be quoted without dashes and asterisks. He never apologized. And he gave the Obama campaign $1 million in contributions. The desperate comeback of Democratic consultant Hilary Rosen that Ann Romney — a cancer and MS survivor and mother of five — had “never worked” (a point the odious Maher seconded) only made things worse, before this chapter of the doggy war was apparently called off by those who started it.
There have been more of these tit-for-tit, na-na na-na na-na doggy wars — with charges ranging from patrimonial polygamy to prep-school privilege — but you get the picture. So what can we learn from them, aside from the obvious fact that Barack Obama prefers not to talk about 40 months of 8 percent–plus unemployment, 1.7 percent GDP growth, $5 trillion in new debt, $4-a-gallon gas, and Obamacare?
Team Obama usually starts the exchange, either to distract from dismal economic news, or in zeal to portray Romney as aristocratic and out of touch — but without careful thinking about what the inevitable Romney rebuttal might look like.
The Romney people apparently will not run a repeat of McCain’s 2008 campaign, in which the candidate put such petty retaliation off limits. There will be no sanctimonious putdowns from Romney about dredging up Obama’s dog-eating past, in the manner in which McCain lectured his supporters about the inappropriateness of emphasizing the tripartite name Barack Hussein Obama — although Obama himself did, and would go on to focus on his middle name as proof of his multicultural resonance abroad. Just as Bill Clinton’s war room swore not to do a rerun of Mike Dukakis’s punching-bag 1988 campaign, so Romney apparently has determined not to repeat the McCain one-hand-tied-behind-the-back model.
In other words, each time we hear of an irrelevant hit on Romney, we will probably hear of something equally irrelevant — and worse — about Obama, in a way we never would have in 2008. Petty? A distraction from the failing economy? Of course, but the Romney people apparently believe that they must and will achieve deterrence by replying in kind and to such a degree that Team Obama will soon cease playing such a childish game of taunts.