Mitt Romney wants to make the 2012 election a referendum on the economy. Facing an electorate that likes Barack Obama personally, Romney has said again and again that Obama is a nice guy who just doesn’t know how to create jobs. The last thing Romney needs is a rogue, richly funded right-wing campaign to change the subject from Obama’s job performance to his character, particularly a rerun of the 2008 attack on Obama’s ties to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But that’s what Romney will get, if Republican donors and operatives can’t control their rage.
The latest sign of trouble is a proposal for a $10 million ad campaign, commissioned by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts and drafted by advisers to John McCain’s 2008 presidential candidacy. The plan proposes to fund television, newspaper, and outdoor ads, starting with an already scripted five-minute video. The script and proposal, leaked to the New York Times—and subsequently renounced by Ricketts after the ensuing uproar—are politically insane. But they offer an instructive psychiatric portrait of the rage in Romney’s party. Too many conservatives are too angry to think straight.
The ad campaign proposal begins with a problem for Republicans: Voters “still aren’t ready to hate this president.” The word ready makes clear that this is where the plan’s authors eventually want to go. The dilemma with regard to voters and Obama, they write, is “how to inflame their questions on his character and competency, while allowing themselves to still somewhat ‘like’ the man.” The plan’s stated challenge is an emotional tension in the electorate. But the tone conveys an emotional tension among the authors: how to express their contempt for Obama in a way that doesn’t alienate the public.
Revulsion oozes from every frame of the video script, though the authors try to pin the hatred on Obama. “Week after week, year after year, he heard the hatred,” the script says of Obama’s attendance at Wright’s sermons. It says Obama “attacked and inflamed,” leaving us a world “wracked with hate-filled passions.” At one point, the script depicts Obama pushing a gurney (symbolizing Obamacare) past a family whose “eyes follow him with disgust.”
Why must we hate Obama? Because he hates America. The insertion of Obama’s middle name in the title of the video script booklet—“The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama”—signals the message. Beside a picture of Obama with Wright, the script alleges, “There’s simply a fundamental difference between his view of America and ours.” It adds: “He was taught for years that America WAS the problem, so how could he ever believe that America could be the solution?”
Beneath the hatred, humiliation boils. “Our plan,” the authors write, is to show how Obama and his left-wing mentors “brought our country to its knees.” Accompanied by images of Obama bowing to foreign heads of state, the script asks: “How can our president stand up for America when he’s bowing, begging, kneeling and apologizing for America?” Later, it repeats that Obama “compulsively bowed and apologized to foreign leaders.” Even on the economy, the script says Obama “brought us to our knees.” A caption placeholder calls for an image of a struggling American “literally on his knees in shame.”
Hilary Rosen’s recent crack about Ann Romney reminded Democrats that it’s nearly always a bad idea to target the candidate’s wife. But authors of the proposed anti-Obama video can’t resist strafing the First Lady. Their frame introducing Wright calls him “the pastor who married Barack Obama to Michelle.” They can’t even restrain their language. After showing Wright’s “God DAMN America” quote—twice—the script retorts that Obama “promised change. But it damn sure wasn’t the change we expected.”
Nor can the authors suppress their urge to refight the last election. Obama has been president for three and a half years. Throughout his term, the economy has sucked. His whole reelection strategy is to ignore that disappointment, rewind history, and rerun the 2008 campaign. This video would help him do that. It dwells less on his presidency than on our folly in electing him. “How did we overlook that?” the script asks, recalling Obama’s ties to Wright. “Should we have known? Should we have known? Perhaps there is no more important question.” And again: “Should we have known when we learned his mentor blamed America for the 9/11 attacks … right after the planes hit?” The draft concludes with white text on a black screen: “Seldom in life do we have a second chance to make the right decision.” The authors seem angry not just at Obama, but at voters. They want to focus attention not on 2011, but on 2001.
They’re angry at McCain, too. They blast him for refusing to use Wright against Obama in 2008. They call McCain “a crusty old politician who often seemed confused.” Freed from his good judgment, they look forward to fulfilling their urges: “Our plan is to do exactly what John McCain would not let us do.”
They won’t get their wish just yet. Some insider, recognizing the insanity of the proposal to Ricketts—and apparently alarmed that it might soon be implemented—leaked it to the Times. Outrage erupted, and Ricketts scrapped it. But this fight isn’t over. The people behind this proposal or named in it include McCain’s media adviser, McCain’s Internet strategist, and Jon Huntsman’s pollster. Such people, and others like them, can make things happen, particularly with the aid of sympathetic freelance financiers. Ricketts is a major conservative donor. His son is a member of the Republican National Committee. As the proposal points out, Ricketts has felt for some time that Republicans should have used Wright more aggressively against Obama in 2008.
For now, the Times leak has put a lid on the right’s rage. But the pot is still boiling. Look out.
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