I’m going to argue with Bob Somerby some more today. I was a bit astounded at the first of three reasons he gave for believing that the Democratic focus on Mitt Romney’s Swiss bank account is a bad idea:
First, we’re unconvinced that these character attacks will work. Although of course they could.
The reason I was taken aback is that it was Bob himself who’s done the most to convince me that these kinds of character attacks work like gangbusters. They worked on Al Gore! They worked on John Kerry! So why wouldn’t they work on Mitt Romney?
Then he goes on to make the perfectly sensible point that Romney is such a bad candidate we shouldn’t need to resort to this kind of stuff regardless. After all, Romney’s tax plan would raise taxes on 18 million working families at the same time that it lowers taxes on millionaires. This is almost cartoonishly ridiculous:
Especially given the state of income inequality, those highlighted proposals are astounding. Almost surely, these are the craziest basic proposals in modern campaign history….They fly in the face of the need for more revenue. They fly in the face of the very low tax rates currently paid by high earners. We’ll guarantee you that very few voters are familiar with these proposals. Even fewer understand the surrounding facts which make them so astounding.
Bob laments that liberals seem unable to swat Romney like a fly with stuff like this. And he’s got a point. What kind of movement is so lame that it can’t make hay with tax plans seemingly delivered straight from a 19th-century robber baron’s sneering countenance?
And yet, as near as I can tell, the plain fact is that attacks like this don’t seem to work all that well. They aren’t useless, but they aren’t silver bullets either. They’re too wonky. Viewers aren’t sure they believe them. It sounds like the usual he-said-she-said nonsense. And anyway, everyone assumes that Republicans aren’t really serious about the looniest of the stuff they spout. It’s just red meat for the true believers, right?
It’s crazy. It’s astounding. It is, perhaps, a long-term abject failure on the part of both the media and the liberal project. But that doesn’t matter for the next four months. In campaign terms, you run with the attacks that work, not the attacks you wish would work. The Obama team has apparently decided that Swiss bank accounts and dodgy tax avoidance schemes and offshoring at Bain are better bets right now, and it’s hard to say they’re wrong about that.
UPDATE: Then again, maybe the tax stuff works better than I think. That’s what a usually reliable friend tells me, anyway. I guess we’ll just have to see how things play out over the next four months.