Jamelle Bouie at the Washington Post explains that “No, Obama’s campaign wasn’t all that negative”:
At this point, the conventional wisdom about President Obama’s reelection campaign has solidified: Obama ran a relentlessly negative campaign that said little about his agenda or presidency, and a whole lot about his opponent, Mitt Romney. Some critics have used this to tarnish the legitimacy of his victory.
At New York Magazine, Jason Zengerle cites this conventional wisdom when he writes that Team Obama is re-framing its victory by focusing on the tech aspects of its reelection effort, and downplaying the extent to which it ran a highly negative campaign. But the truth of the matter is that Obama’s effort was — in all likelihood — no more negative than previous campaigns.
In general, presidential elections are not positive — indeed, that’s to be expected, given the high stakes for both the parties and the country. Every election cycle, there’s a cottage industry of journalists and pundits bemoaning the negativity of that particular contest…
The question isn’t whether Obama’s effort was a “grinding, joyless slog,” it’s whether it was more grinding and more joyless than previous presidential campaigns. When you consider Palin’s “palling around with terrorists” or the Willie Horton ads of 1988, I’m willing to bet that it wasn’t.
I take credit for pointing this out all the way back in July:
Every American election is the ugliest election ever, because the grievances never change and the technology continually improves…
By 2016, we’ll probably be able to download a Red or Blue TruGanda Facts-ion-aid™ dataset directly into our retinal implants, but the base script won’t change—our opponent is a member of That Tribe We Hate, who eats unclean foodstuffs and sleeps with taboo partners while worshipping false gods and using more than his share of the common resources. All else is commentary.
The real difference in 2012, as some of you pointed out, was that Romney’s handlers had to invent calumnies about President Obama, whose team had merely to remind voters what Mitt had actually done and said!