The collective fit Democrats have thrown since Mitt Romney mopped the debate floor with President Obama last week signals what their approach will be for the next 28 days. It also presages Vice President Biden's tactic for the vice presidential debate Thursday night.
Romney convincingly contradicted all the distortions Democrats have been putting forward about him for months. They are now falling back on Obama's strategy for the past four years: Vilify the enemy. In this case, call him a liar.
We have heard no serious defense of the president's record or policies since the debate, nor should we expect to. Ever since his inauguration, Obama has obfuscated his philosophy and plans while directing the country's attention instead to the defects of his opponents. This way, he avoids the messiness of debate, as well as the need to launch a well-reasoned defense of his record and his liberal agenda.
When Republicans have stood in his way, Obama has sought to silence and neutralize them through such vilification. He has called them "hostage-takers" and "enemies" to be punished. He has said they care "more about millionaires and billionaires than children with Down Syndrome and autism." Republicans want to take women back to the Stone Age by threatening "reproductive justice."
With the election nearing, Team Obama's routine character assault has changed slightly to an attack on Romney's integrity. He is now "a liar," having already been called a "felon," "the most extreme presidential candidate in history," "dangerously wrong," "heartless," and even complicit in cancer deaths.
Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for the DNC, said of Romney at the debate, "if he was speaking ... he was lying." Rep. James Clyburn said, "Romney spent the entire debate ... lying about his agenda." Rep. Jan Schakowsky mocked Romney: "He likes bank regulations now? He wants more teachers? No tax cuts for the rich? . . . He was basically lying."
David Axelrod remarked that Romney's debate performance "was devoid of honesty . . . much of it was rooted in deception ... I think the question for . . . the American people is really one of character and whether or not a candidacy that's so fundamentally rooted in hiding the truth and the facts from the American people in deception is the basis of trust on which you would assign the presidency to a person."
The Obama Team's premise is that Romney was dishonest for refusing to conform his own platform to their mischaracterizations -- for example, to Obama's repeated claim in debate that Romney wants to cut taxes by $5 trillion. This was a whole-cloth invention by Obama's campaign, part fiction and part hyperbole. Romney denied it forcefully last week, to the point that his deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, was forced to admit it wasn't true.
On Thursday night, expect Joe Biden to repeat the steady refrain: Romney and Paul Ryan are liars. "I've been saying to you all that Gov. Romney has embraced the Ryan budget. Well, he has. He's gone back and said, no, he agrees with it . . . I think that you just never know what game, what position Gov. Romney's going to come with. I mean, you know, the centerpiece of their economic policy so far has been their tax cut, and last night we found out he doesn't have a $5 trillion tax cut, and I guess he outsourced that to China or something. I don't know if that's offshored ... But it's hard to figure out what Gov. Romney's position is on a number of issues." Biden's goal is to finish the job so his boss won't have to: destroy Romney's character by assailing the essential ingredient: integrity
Obama will win only if he can make Romney the enemy by painting him as anti-middle class, anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-education, anti-elderly, anti-young people. Before voters fall for it, they need to consider what Obama is so desperate to hide from the American people as he resorts to this game of divide and conquer.
Kate Obenshain is the author of the new book "Divider-in-Chief: The Fraud of Hope and Change" (Regnery, 2012)