The Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. will not be getting his closeup in 2012. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)
It was fun while it didn't last. I'm referring to the proposed ad campaign by a pro-Mitt Romney "super PAC" that would have resurrected the Rev. Jeremiah A. "God damn America" Wright Jr. The plan, first reported by the New York Times, was for a group headed by Joe Ricketts of TD Ameritrade to air ads showing how "the influence of that misguided mentor and our president’s formative years among left-wing intellectuals has brought our country to its knees.”
On Thursday, Romney repudiated the campaign, and the Mad Men behind it are going back to the drawing board. That means Conan O'Brien fans won't be treated to a return appearance by a TV-screen image of Wright mouthing "Good evening, Conan, and God damn you."
It also means that Romney temporarily has gained the moral high ground, dissociating himself from a personal attack on Obama even as the president's campaign tries to capitalize on Bain Capital's alleged vampirism.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012
“I hope that isn't the course of this campaign,” Romney said piously, adding: "It's interesting that we're talking about some Republican PAC that wants to go after the president [on Wright]. I hope people also are looking at what [Obama] is doing, and saying, 'Why is he running an attack campaign? Why isn't he talking about his record?' "
Is there an immoral equivalence between the aborted anti-Wright campaign and the Obama ads trashing Bain for bankrupting a Kansas City steel company?
Each attack has a major weakness. The suggestion that Obama's association with Wright impelled him to bring America to its knees raises the question it should be directly addressing: whether American has been brought to its knees, whatever that means, in the last few years.
But the Bain Capital attack also is questionable. The GS Technologies steel mill went bankrupt in 2001, but Romney had left Bain in 1999 to run the Salt Lake City Olympics. Even if Romney had personally signed the pink slips for steelworkers, connecting that action with likely Romney policies in the White House would have been an analytical stretch.
It would be priggish to argue that presidential candidates and their super PACs should confine their campaign pitches to 12-point policy proposals. "Character" matters to voters, and both ideas seek to capitalize on character flaws: Romney's hard-heartedness and Obama's insensitivity to appearances in his association with a problematic pastor. But personal attacks (like investments in struggling companies) carry a risk. Romney concluded that the return of Wright would be more trouble than it was worth. Obama may come to a similar conclusion about too much Bain-bashing.
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