Marty Kaplan: In politics, two negatives don’t make a positive


A riddle:  What piece of political wisdom is always wrong – but its opposite is also always wrong?

Okay, here’s a hint:  Willie Horton.  Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.  John Boehner.

The Boehner illustration was on full display last week.  Ever since President Obama’s first 100 days in office, when House minority leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) ” target=”_hplink”>speech in Ohio demanding an extension of the Bush tax cuts for millionaires, calling on Obama to fire his entire economic team (not, by the way, a terrible idea), and asking Americans to elect a Republican Congress because “it’s time to put grown-ups in charge.”  Someone in the White House must have finally decided that if Boehner’s charges went unanswered, they would stick – just as Lee Atwater’s smear of Michael Dukakis (he’ll pardon black men so they can rape and kill white women) stuck, and just as the Swift Boaters’ smear of John Kerry (the guy with a Purple Heart was actually a coward in Vietnam) stuck, when the objects of their slanders didn’t deign to fight back.

That’s why Obama went to Cleveland last week, where he nailed Boehner in a speech of his own, hanging around Boehner’s neck the cynicism of the Republican strategy: rooting for Americans’ pain.  The GOP economic plan, Obama ” target=”_hplink”>saying, “I don’t think most Americans have a clue who John Boehner is and wonder why the president is lowering himself to attacking a congressman.” 

The media response was also a jerked knee.  As an ” target=”_hplink”>fightthesmears.com?), polling suggests that the dismissive way they’ve handled the attacks of 2009 and 2010 – he’s a, you know, terrorist-loving, granny-euthanizing, Kenyan-born Muslim Marxist – hasn’t been particularly effective.  The bipartisan kumbaya stuff hasn’t worked, either, neither in Congress nor in the country.  People may say they want Gandhi, but really they want Rocky. 

Now, with a stalled recovery, high unemployment, and a train wreck of an election looming, the ol’ fired-up-and-ready-to-go Obama is out on the partisan hustings.  It’ll be something of a miracle if the president’s hammering will persuade enough Americans to prevent Boehner from becoming Speaker.  Maybe Sunday’s New York Times ” target=”_hplink”>Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the martyk@jewishjournal.com.