By Taylor Armerding
— There was a time not long ago when my left-wing "friends" - I use that term with all the sincere affection Vice President Joe Biden did when debating his Republican challenger, Congressman Paul Ryan - used to wring their hands in horror over a number of campaign tactics that only Republicans allegedly did.
They deplored "negative advertising." They were deeply troubled over "personal attacks," when it was, they said, so much more important to focus on "the big issues." I can't even count the number of times I heard about the awful "Republican smear machine."
They decried "hate speech," which they defined as anyone offering even polite disagreement with them on a moral or social issue. President Barack Obama himself called for "civility" in political debate, after the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in January 2011.
They were enraged at anyone on the right allegedly "questioning" their patriotism for any reason. After all, they said, "dissent is the highest form of patriotism."
And, of course, there was equal outrage and horror over Republican "scare tactics" and "fear mongering," since it was grossly unfair to suggest that life might be worse for the helpless American masses if Republican candidates didn't get elected.
That was then.
Now, television viewers can't escape a torrent of negative ads claiming that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's only goal at Bain Capital was to ship jobs overseas and put as many Americans on unemployment lines as he could. Or that he is responsible for the deaths of people from cancer. Or that Paul Ryan's goal is to throw elderly people off a cliff.
For a while there, you couldn't escape hearing about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's ludicrous accusation that Romney had paid no income taxes for a decade.
The big issues? Forget about it.
How many times have you heard the president, his surrogates, or other Democratic candidates say that Romney and Co. want to stick it to the middle class and undermine social programs so they can give "tax breaks to Big Oil" or to "millionaires and billionaires"? How many times have you heard that if those millionaires (people who make $250,000 and up) paid their "fair share," the fiscal problems would be solved?
Of course, they don't mention that Obama had a Democratic majority in the House for the first two years of his presidency, often with a veto-proof majority in the Senate, but didn't eliminate those allegedly unconscionable tax breaks.
They also don't mention that eliminating those tax breaks would take a few drops out of a roaring waterfall of federal debt. They don't mention that their tax-the-rich plan would not even come close to "paying down our debt in a balanced way." Small - very, very small - potatoes.
They would rather talk about Big Bird or an insignificant slip of the tongue like "binders full of women" than what it will really take to put programs like Medicare and Social Security on a sustainable footing.
No personal attacks? Check out the Obama campaign ad in Ohio that says, "Mitt Romney. Not one of us." If the Romney campaign said anything even close to that about Obama, the race-baiters would be foaming at the mouth.
Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos, is only one of thousands who can't critique Romney without first lobbing a vulgar, personal insult. "I'd hate to be Mitt Romney, because I'd hate to be that kind of (expletive)," he began, in a post presumably about polling data.
Hate speech? Check out the latest Michael Moore "issue-oriented" video, where elderly people sprinkle threats of obscene violence against Romney with other obscenities.
Questioning patriotism? That's OK now, at least for Democrats, who call wealthy people who say they want to pay more taxes "patriotic millionaires." The obvious message is that anyone making $250,000 or more who doesn't support paying higher taxes is not a patriot. Just in case you don't get it, a couple of super PACs have an ad up calling Romney an "economic traitor."
Fear mongering? You can't escape the "war on women" ads that claim Romney doesn't want women to get birth control.
Some ads claim Romney and Ryan want to get rid of Medicare altogether, while others say they want to end Medicare "as we know it."
That last statement at least has a kernel of truth; Romney and Ryan do want to end Medicare as we know it, because it cannot continue as we know it. It will disappear entirely, or end up being administered by China.
And then there's that lovable rogue Bill Clinton, former president and now surrogate-in-chief for Obama, who said the damage of a Romney presidency would be far worse than that inflicted by Hurricane Sandy. Classy - so classy.
Yes, right-wingers put out plenty of negative ads, too, although the majority of them focus on the economy and the president's multiple broken promises and inconsistencies.
But the point is, all the self-righteous whining about Republicans having a corner on it are demonstrably absurd.
When there is an election to be won, that trumps any scruples about civility. Smears, personal attacks, obscene mocking, and fear mongering are all just fine in the pursuit of what they believe is the greater good - keeping their hands on the levers of power.
- Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.