The campaign jabs and counterpunches most often cited in the "nasty" stories hardly seemed historic. And let's keep things in perspective: Coordinating a multi-million dollar marketing campaign to smear a candidate by lying about his war record the way the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth did to John Kerry? That's ugly, nasty and extraordinary stuff. Have the Obama and Romney campaigns blatantly crossed all lines of common decency and fair play? Not that I've seen.
Yet the press seemed committed to the "nasty" lament. This week, Washington Post's Dan Balz lamented "the most poisonous campaign" and the fact that "all restraints" have been removed from the contest. Note that Baltz's concern was that the nasty tone would make it difficult for the winner to govern:
This campaign will end in November. Then it will be either Obama's or Romney's responsibility to try to govern. Both side have turned the election into an all-or-nothing battle and hope to claim a mandate on the basis of the outcome. But it will take time and great effort for the winner to drain the poison from the system if the campaign continues on this course.
This campaign is so nasty Balz worries that whoever wins won't be able to bring the country together in order to govern. The winner won't have a mandate.
Here's why Balz's concern no longer applies to modern day politics: Barack Obama ran a "Hope and Change" campaign in 2008. He won in an electoral landslide. And by every conceivable measure he was given a mandate to lead by the American people. The Republican and conservative movement's response to Obama's sweeping, "Hope and Change" victory? The response alternated between blanket obstructionism, "I hope he fails" media taunts, a supposed news channel helping to launch angry Tea Party protests, and an ugly descent into birtherism.
That was President Obama's reward for running the type of campaign the D.C. press apparently wishes candidates were running in 2012.
Pundits like Dan Balz fret that Romney and Obama are running such nasty campaigns that come January it will be "impossible to govern." But most pundits have sat idly by during Obama's first term while sore-loser, obstructionist Republicans haved tried to make it impossible for Obama to govern. The press soft peddled the radical obstructionism and spent much of the last four years blaming Obama for the lack of bipartisanship in Washington. Why was the nasty gridlock Obama's fault? Because he failed to convince committed obstructionists to stop obstructing the White House's agenda.
Yet now the political press is fretting over the fact the campaign's so nasty that no matter who wins in November, the atmosphere inside Washington will remain poisonous? In case members of the media haven't been paying attention, Republicans pumped the poison into the Beltway in the immediate aftermath of Obama's "Hope and Change" campaign.
Given that fact, what's the point of being positive?