Reporting from Washington — Even as public dismay mounts over partisan gridlock in Washington, both parties are embarked on new efforts to demean each other's candidates and positions months before the 2010 elections.
One day before President Obama's January State of the Union speech, in which he vowed to meet monthly with Republican leaders to help dissolve partisan tensions, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee advised its candidates to ratchet up the political heat in hopes of creating rifts within the GOP.
The memo recommends that candidates "trap" the opposition into taking positions on policies that caused the recession. And it suggests Democrats force opponents to commit themselves on some far-right language, such as whether Obama is "a U.S. citizen" (he was born in Hawaii, though some remain unconvinced) and "a socialist."
"If your opponent has taken a moderate position in the past, you should be sure to make sure their primary opponent or conservative activists know it," the memo says. "This will cause them to take heat from their primary opponents and could likely provoke a flip flop . . . "
The Democratic National Committee recently circulated an e-mail targeting Mitt Romney, who hasn't even announced whether he'll run in the next presidential election, which is nearly three years off. The e-mail seeks to cast Romney as "flip-flopping" based on positions he takes in a book due out in March.
Partisanship from the Republican end has been every bit as severe. A solid bloc of Republican senators has invoked the filibuster rule repeatedly, and the GOP campaign machinery is mocking Democrats who support Obama as "rubber stamps."
Polls show Americans don't like what they see in the accelerating warfare. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll last month asked whether "there is too much partisan fighting between Democrats and Republicans and very little cooperation." A total of 93% agreed with that. Only 5% disagreed.
Pointing to the Democratic and Republican party committees, Democratic strategist Joe Trippi said: "They can't stop themselves. You have at least six party committees that spend every waking hour trying to figure out how to tear down the other side."
Obama recently announced that the healthcare debate would be a new showcase for bipartisan cooperation. He invited Republicans to a meeting Feb. 25 at which both parties would hash out their differences.
In a climate of mutual suspicion, some Republican lawmakers won't commit to attending.
A Republican House leadership aide, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said his party might be "walking into what will be an infomercial for the latest Democratic backroom deal."
He dismissed the meeting with an epithet.