"I think it can now be said without equivocation -- without equivocation -- that this man [President Obama] hates this country." -- Rush Limbaugh
"As I said before, I was told by an extremely credible source that Romney has not paid taxes for ten years." -- Sen. Harry Reid
Clearly, Romney is a flip-flopping, tax-dodging, woman-hating, dog-roofing, severely conservative moderate running against a Kenyan, Muslim, America-hating, socialist wealth re-distributor. And yet none of these accusatory labels seems likely to keep either one from being elected.
Oh, they'll keep the partisans fired up and solidly in their candidate's corner -- partisans who wouldn't punch their enemy's ticket if it might save their favorite child's life; partisans who can legitimize any attack, no matter how skewed.
But while the political acrimony still "goes to 11" on the Spinal Tap scale, the mud being slung in this campaign just doesn't seem to have the sticking power of the 2004 Swift Boat and flip-flop crusade against John Kerry, or the 2000 primary's race-baiting robo-calls against John McCain.
The right has had much success labeling Democratic beliefs as the opposite of apple pie and baseball. And they still try. On a recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, word-meister Frank Luntz, the man who made the estate tax the "death tax" and health care reform a "government takeover," described people he had polled as breaking down in tears "whether they're Democrats or Americans." The idea has always been to portray Democrats as unpatriotic, attaching so much disgust to the word liberal that many liberals changed their brand to "progressive."
But today there are no buzzwords or slogans that are turning tides. We seem to be at a point where the sides are so entrenched that the only impact is on those who are already locked in and ready to forward 20 Newsmax or Daily Kos articles a day to their 10 Facebook friends. Those who were OK with Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a "slut" were already solidly in the far-right column. Those who believe this kind of sexism is shared by Romney were already firmly in the Obama camp.
One change has been in the way the targets deal with the projectiles heading in their direction. Democrats have taken more of what's thrown at them and embraced it. Obama has said he's "fond" of the term Obamacare, and many on the left now proudly own up to the moniker liberal.
The conservative media dug up a 1996 video purported to show that Obama was a socialist. Nothing. They tried to resurrect the controversy over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Nada. "We built that!" -- a waste of the convention banner budget. Bill Clinton even turned, "Are you better off today then you were four years ago?" into an Obama bump.
The left, meanwhile, was handed Romney's "47 percent" video. Romney waited the requisite 17 days, bumped it up to 100 percent, and was forgiven. The left reminded us that in the same video, Romney expressed pessimism about the prospects for an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. And at 18 days, Romney unearthed a Middle East peace plan.
Sure, gazillions of dollars are still financing an untold number of attack ads that may affect the last weeks of the campaign. But unless there is more substance behind the attacks, perhaps the gazillions will be wasted. One can only hope.
First published in Philadelphia Inquirer Op-Ed pages
Award-winning TV Writer, Steve Young is the author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful" (www.greatfailure.com).
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