President Obama Monday compared his relentless negative campaigning to that of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, suggesting the accusations lobbed back and forth in the 1800 campaign justified his own resort to the low road.
Speaking at a fundraiser Tuesday in New York City, Obama indicated the attacks on Mitt Romney, which independent observers have branded as in some cases false, were in the grand American tradition of politics.
And this phase of the campaign I think you’re seeing a lot of negative ads and a lot of contrast ads — although when people start saying how terrible it is I just have to remind them that take a look at what Jefferson and Adams had to say about each other, and democracy has always been pretty rough and pretty messy.
Indeed, there were some scurrilous accusations made in the campaign of 1800, in which Jefferson defeated Adams, the incumbent president.
But many of the attacks often cited are either unproven to have occurred or were not necessarily directed by the candidates, although Jefferson did condone some of them. Obama is presiding over a centralized attack machine aimed at Romney.
That nasty campaigns have been conducted before hardly justifies dishonest, mean spirited campaigning today.
What’s more, Obama has presented himself as someone who wants to bring “civility” to politics, specifically criticizing negative campaigning and creating an image of himself as a new kind of politician who was above such tactics.