Why the president is facing particular difficulty smearing Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney presents one enormous problem for Barack Obama's campaign: No divorce records. That's why the media are so hot to get their hands on Romney's tax records for the past 25 years. They need something to "pick through, distort and lie about" -- as the Republican candidate says.
Obama's usual campaign method, used in 100 percent of his races, has been to pry into the private records of his opponents.
Democrats aren't going to find any personal dirt on the clean-cut Mormon, so they need complicated tax filings going back decades in order to create the illusion of scandal out of boring financial records.
Romney has already released his 2010 tax return and is about to release his 2011 return. After all the huffing and puffing by the media demanding those returns, the follow-up story vanished remarkably quickly when the only thing the return showed was that Romney pays millions of dollars in taxes and gives a lot of money to charity.
Let's take a romp down memory lane and review the typical Obama campaign strategy. Obama became a U.S. senator only by virtue of David Axelrod's former employer, the Chicago Tribune, ripping open the sealed divorce records of Obama's two principal opponents.
One month before the 2004 Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, Obama was down in the polls, about to lose to Blair Hull, a multimillionaire securities trader. But then the Chicago Tribune leaked the claim that Hull's second ex-wife, Brenda Sexton, had sought an order of protection against him during their 1998 divorce proceedings.
Those records were under seal, but as The New York Times noted: "The Tribune reporter who wrote the original piece later acknowledged in print that the Obama camp had 'worked aggressively behind the scenes' to push the story." Many people said Axelrod had "an even more significant role -- that he leaked the initial story."
Both Hull and his ex-wife opposed releasing their sealed divorce records, but they finally relented in response to the media's hysteria -- 18 days before the primary. Hull was forced to spend four minutes of a debate detailing the abuse allegation in his divorce papers, explaining that his ex-wife "kicked me in the leg and I hit her shin to try to get her to not continue to kick me."
After having held a substantial lead just a month before the primary, Hull's campaign collapsed with the chatter about his divorce. Obama sailed to the front of the pack and won the primary. Hull finished third with 10 percent of the vote.
As luck would have it, Obama's opponent in the general election had also been divorced! Jack Ryan was tall, handsome, Catholic -- and shared a name with one of Harrison Ford's most popular onscreen characters! He went to Dartmouth, Harvard Law and Harvard Business School, made hundreds of millions of dollars as a partner at Goldman Sachs, and then, in his early 40s, left investment banking to teach at an inner city school on the South Side of Chicago.
Ryan would have walloped Obama in the Senate race. But at the request of -- again -- the Chicago Tribune, California Judge Robert Schnider unsealed the custody papers in Ryan's divorce five years earlier from Hollywood starlet Jeri Lynn Ryan, the bombshell Borg on "Star Trek: Voyager."
Jack Ryan had released his tax records. He had released his divorce records. But both he and his ex-wife sought to keep the custody records under seal to protect their son.
Amid the 400 pages of filings from the custody case, Jack Ryan claimed that his wife had had an affair, and she counterclaimed with the allegation that he had taken her to "sex clubs" in Paris, New York and New Orleans, which drove her to fall in love with another man.
(Republicans: If you plan a career in public office, please avoid marrying a wacko.)
Ryan had vehemently denied her allegations at the time, but it didn't matter. The sex club allegations aired on "Entertainment Tonight," "NBC Nightly News," ABC's "Good Morning America," "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," and NBC's "Today" show. CNN covered the story like it was the first moon landing.
(Interestingly, international papers also were ablaze with the story -- the same newspapers that were supposed to be so bored with American sexual mores during Bill Clinton's sex scandal.)
Four days after Judge Schnider unsealed the custody records, Ryan dropped out of the race for the horror of (allegedly) propositioning his own wife and then taking "no" for an answer.
Alan Keyes stepped in as a last-minute Republican candidate.
And that's how Obama became a U.S. senator. He destroyed both his Democratic primary opponent and his Republican general election opponent with salacious allegations about their personal lives taken from "sealed" court records.
Obama's team delved into Sarah Palin's marriage and spread rumors of John McCain's alleged affair in 2008 and they smeared Herman Cain in 2011 with hazy sexual harassment allegations all emanating from David Axelrod's pals in Chicago.
It's almost like a serial killer's signature. Unsealed personal records have been released to the press. Obama must be running for office!
So you can see what a pickle the Obama campaign is in having to run against a Dudley Do-Right, non-drinking, non-smoking, God-fearing, happily married Mormon.
They've got to get their hands on thousands of pages of Romney's tax filings so that the media can -- as Romney says -- lie about them. It will be interesting to see if Obama can pick the lock of the famously guarded IRS.
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