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NYMag: The War War

Author: John Heilemann
April 13, 2012


According to the Romney campaign, the president has declared hostilities against just about everything Americans hold dear--and the Obamas are firing back, writes John Heilemann in New York magazine.

Barack Obama has been accused of many sins, but among the most common Republican charges against him is that he is a warmonger—though not in the usual sense of the term, of course. Just since the turn of the New Year, conservatives have inveighed against Obama for prosecuting a "war on oil," a "war on coal" (with an attendant "war on Appalachia"), and a "war on energy"; a "war on religion," a "war on the Vatican," and a "war on the Catholic Church"; a "war on the Supreme Court" and a "war on the U.S. Constitution"; and, according to a new book co-authored by anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist, a "war on jobs and growth."

Even against this background of promiscuous martial-metaphorizing, however, few would have predicted that Mitt Romney would spend his first full day as a general-election candidate assailing Obama for waging—wait for it—a war on women. Or that the next day, after the kerfuffle involving Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen erupted, Romney's people would attack Obama for inciting a "war on moms." And for engaging in "class warfare" with the Buffett Rule. And for stoking a "war on reality" for … who knows? But while Democrats may tut-tut and shake their heads, they are hardly innocent here. It was the left, after all, that introduced the war-on-women lingo to the political vernacular in the first place.

Phony wars are nothing new in presidential politics, to be sure, but rarely have they been this dimwitted, dishonest, debasing, or, when it comes to what the months between now and November hold in store, so utterly depressing. And yet as dismaying as last week was, it was also revealing of the terrain and tactics that will define the general election—with Chicago relentlessly touting economic fairness and seeking to exacerbate Romney's weaknesses with key constituencies such as women, and with Boston talking economic opportunity and scrambling to rehab its man's battered image with those same groups. The Democratic side is the favorite in this fight, no doubt. But there are signs amid the skirmishing that the Republican team can't be counted out just yet.

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