In the Arena

The Ad: Rowboat, Not Swift Boat

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Well, just about everybody has weighed in on the Obama-leaning super PAC’s ad about the laid-off steelworker whose wife died of cancer. I was going to pass on my pundocratic responsibilities in this area, especially after Michael Crowley’s way-smart exegesis yesterday, but there’s just no avoiding the thing. It threatens to become one of those moments that defines, and crystallizes, a campaign. So here are some thoughts about it:

1. It is inaccurate. If I ever tried to float that one past fact-checking fascist Katy Steinmetz, she’d have me locked up in an air-conditioner duct for many days. She would want me to point out that the man’s wife had her own health insurance, lost it and contracted cancer years later.

2. But this is an ad, not a TIME magazine article. And I’ve seen a lot worse. The Swift Boat ads launched by an “independent” committee against John Kerry were entirely scurrilous. There is a difference between inaccurate and flat-out untrue. The steelworker ad stretches out a timeline, but the events actually happened: the steelworker was laid off by Bain; the wife got cancer and died. The Swift Boat ads turned out to be utter lies. They questioned John Kerry’s honor on the battlefield, which is lower than dirt. (I was among many who interviewed Kerry’s boatmates, who saw him as a courageous leader.)

Additional thought: It was the Romney team that opened this campaign with a completely false ad about Obama — in which then candidate Obama is caught saying, “We can’t run on the economy,” but he’s actually repeating the words of his opponent, John McCain. Romney refused to take that ad down. If I’m the Obama team, I’ve got to figure that anything goes after that.

3. As Crowley pointed out yesterday, the ad gets to the heart of some very big issues in this campaign: layoffs and health care. It is wrong to blame Romney for layoffs. They happen. Obama was responsible for some stiff reductions in force as part of the auto bailout. But the wife would never have lost her health care under Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

4. Or under Romneycare in Massachusetts, as Romney’s communications director Andrea Saul helpfully pointed out yesterday. Part of the agony of this campaign has been watching Romney empretzel himself in order to avoid his real record of accomplishment in Massachusetts — and his flight from intelligent and pragmatic “empowerment” Republicanism, which sought to reform government programs by introducing market disciplines (like choice), to the idiot Tea Party–tainted nihilism of the current GOP. A race between that old Romney and this Obama would have been a very interesting, and positive, thing.

5. Romney still has a major wing-nut problem. Saul’s statement was attacked by Limbaugh and the usual suspects. And another set of usual suspects — the Wall Street Journal ed board and Weekly Standard crowd — are pushing Romney to pick Paul Ryan for Vice President rather than Rob Portman of Ohio, who is by far the better choice.

You sort of got the feeling this week that the GOP stalwarts would like to get past this Romney thing and on to Armageddon in 2016.