The nastiness has started in earnest.
Fake allegations about the presidential candidates are posted more than three times per minute on social media, according to MSNBC.
Mitt Romney doesn’t seem to be able to say anything nice about President Barack Obama. Obama seems distinctly disdainful of the former Massachusetts governor.
Political action committees and corporations, freed by the Supreme Court to raise hundreds of millions of dollars, are preparing some of the most negative ads we’ve ever seen. The candidates’ own committees are said to be soliciting $1 billion each.
We Americans have had many truly awful presidential campaigns (“Ma. Ma. Where’s my Pa? Gone to the White House. Ha. Ha. Ha.” That was the chant used by Republicans against Grover Cleveland, rumored to have sired a child out of wedlock. Democrats accused his opponent, James Blaine, of corruption and cover-up: “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine, ‘Burn this letter’!”)
This year we’ve got some has-been singer with scrawny hair, whose endorsement was welcomed by the Romneys, calling the president “evil” and saying that if Obama is re-elected, he, the singer, will be dead or in jail.
We’ve still got know-nothing politicians suggesting that Obama is probably a Muslim (he is not) or not a legal citizen (he is).
We’ve got Obama’s camp pointing out that Ann Romney was a privileged stay-at-home mother and Mitt Romney was born with a silver spoon in his mouth — therefore, they can’t possibly understand the other 99 percent. Oh, and did you hear that they once drove to Canada with the family dog on the station-wagon roof?
What is scary about this election is that 46 percent of Americans absolutely would never consider voting for Romney and 46 percent absolutely would never consider voting for Obama this November. And most of them feel viscerally that the other guy is a horrible, terrible, no-good person who will ruin the country.
Philosophy at issue
What’s even scarier is that the experts think the election will be decided by less than 1 percent of voters. (Even though the experts are often wrong, half the population will be seriously bitter come January.)
Yes, we know that every four years there is what’s supposed to be the most crucial election in U.S. history. But this might be the case this time. This election is about philosophy of government: Do we want to make serious changes in how we are governed, or not?
Do we want to trim the deficit by cutting out the services we like, or not? Do we want to change the tax code, or not? Do we want to let the really rich have more control of the reins, or not? Do we want to cut entitlement benefits such as Medicare and Social Security and make Americans take more responsibility for their own retirements, or not? Are we going to continue to be a nation that welcomes immigrants, or are we going to shut the doors?
Obama has held power since 2009. He saved Detroit, killed Osama bin Laden and began the economic recovery. But millions of Americans are still desperately struggling to get out from under one of the worst recessions ever, and Obama still can’t sell his signature health-insurance-overhaul law. Romney saved the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, made millions in business and governed his state as a moderate. But few know what he stands for on major issues or whether his plans to deregulate, cut spending and cut taxes are realistic or anachronistic.
In some respects, this era is like the Civil War, with the hatred but not the bloodshed. Brother against brother. Sister against sister. Parents against children. It’s even red-state-blue-state geographical.
We’ll spend the next six months seeking reinforcement of what we already believe about each man before we hold our noses and vote.
Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.