Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Obama or Romney, who's more scary?

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri August 17, 2012
The real hallmark of this election is the fear-mongering, says Ruben Navarrette.
The real hallmark of this election is the fear-mongering, says Ruben Navarrette.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: The real hallmark of this election is the fear-mongering
  • Navarrette: Both campaigns are trying to scare someone like John of Ohio
  • He says Obama and Romney are aiming nasty accusations at each other
  • Navarrette: Americans don't need to suffer through all this negativity, ugliness

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

San Diego (CNN) -- If you like your exercises in democracy nasty, negative and nonsensical, look no further. If you prefer fear and pessimism over inspiration and optimism, you're in luck. If you like it when political rivals forgo trying to convince you as to who can be the better president and spend their time demonizing the other guy, this is the presidential election for you.

The mud is flying, and it's only August. But more than personal attacks, the real hallmark of this election is the fear-mongering.

That's where both President Obama and Mitt Romney are putting most of their efforts: trying to portray the other guy in ways that scare the knickers off the American people. Actually, if you listen closely to what's coming out of both campaigns, the objective is to terrify one American in particular.

I'm calling him "John." He's a 45-year-old, working-class white male who is trying to hold on to his place in a changing world. Either he is out of work, or he's worried that he could soon be. He is concerned about his future, and that of his children. And he lives in Ohio.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Oh, John might just as easily live in any of the other half dozen states that political observers have labeled "battleground states" that are supposedly up for grabs -- Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida and New Mexico. But somehow, Ohio seems the more likely address. Colorado might go red, and New Mexico, despite having a Republican governor, is almost certain to stay blue.

Blue collar workers in Pennsylvania are probably going to vote Republican for a change in course; and senior citizens in Florida will surely vote Democratic if the Obama campaign is successful in depicting vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan as the Grinch who stole Medicare. So, in the end, this election is likely to be decided by what happens in Ohio.

And wouldn't you know it? Just to keep things interesting, in the Buckeye State, the race is a statistical dead heat. Two recent voter surveys each found the contest in Ohio too close to call.

The most negative campaign ever?
Medicare taking center stage this fall
Dan Rather: 'Meaner than a mama wasp'

A poll by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, found Obama leading Romney 48 percent to 45 percent, within the margin of error. Another poll by Rasmussen Reports, a company often cited by conservatives, found Obama and Romney tied at 45 percent.

Romney and the Republicans have been hammering away on Obama's record in the White House. The message? He's a bad president. And sure enough, in both polls, more voters disapproved of Obama's job performance than approved of it, 51 percent to 46 percent, according to Public Policy Polling and 51 percent to 48 percent, according to Rasmussen.

Obama and the Democrats have responded by zeroing in on Romney's unlikability, devotion to what Gov. Rick Perry called "vulture capitalism," and difficulty in relating to everyday Americans. The message? He's a bad person. That also seems to be getting through since, in both polls, more voters have an unfavorable opinion of Romney than a favorable one, 52 percent to 41 percent in the Public Policy Polling survey and 50 percent to 49 percent, according to Rasmussen.

With poll results like these, both sides are likely to conclude that negativity is working in their favor and keep it up. Not good. We mustn't encourage this sort of thing.

What good is it doing for the country? None whatsoever. Drawing contrasts with your opponent is an important part of politics, but you don't have to take the low road to do it, or stand idly by when your surrogates do. Even in the most aggressive campaigns, there have to be some standards; yet, this year, they're hard to find.

On the left, Priorities USA, a pro-Obama super PAC, went way over the top when it released an ad accusing Romney of somehow being responsible for the death of the wife of Joe Soptic, a former steel company employee. Despite calls on Obama to denounce the ad, the White House has refused to comment because the spot was produced by a third party group. And Vice President Joe Biden this week made a positively reprehensible comment, telling an audience that included African-Americans that Romney wants to use his economic policies to "put y'all back in chains." Yes, that Delaware drawl can be very pronounced.

Republicans are fighting back. Romney charged this week that Obama will "do anything" to retain the presidency and that he should take his "campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago." The Romney campaign has put out an ad of its own accusing Obama of trying to "gut" welfare reform by taking out the requirement, popular with independents and conservatives, that recipients either work or enter a job training program. The Obama campaign yelled foul, insisting this isn't true and that the administration just wants to give states more flexibility in applying the law. Still, much of the GOP's fear-mongering is about the economy, with their insistence that Obama wants to grow government and destroy the free enterprise system.

Oh brother. Does anyone believe this egg-throwing? What are the people running the campaigns thinking, that this is going to scare John in Ohio away from the other guy?

Americans respond better to positive messages: Ronald Reagan's "morning in America" in 1984 and Bill Clinton's "don't stop thinking about tomorrow" in 1992.

This year, we're already saddled with two candidates for president that leave you with the feeling that we should ask for more applications. That's bad enough. We shouldn't have to suffer through all this negativity and ugliness as well.

So how about it, John in Ohio? Both campaigns are playing this dark and depressing game, seeing which one of them can scare you more. They're betting that the one that spins the more terrifying yarn will win the election. For the good of the country, let's hope you don't scare easily.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 8:12 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT