WASHINGTON: If you like presidential politics, then Ohio this year is the place to be. If you hate politics, well, don’t worry, by the second week of November it all will be over.
The reason is not much of a mystery. Ohio is one of only a dozen states that will be competitive in the race between President Barack Obama and likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney. So be prepared to have your fill of political TV commercials.
But if you are going to watch them, be careful. The advertisements may pretend to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But in reality, they are filled with the type of distortions that no private company could get away with in a TV commercial.
And those distortions are a bipartisan accomplishment. In other words, everybody does it.
Last week, both sides launched aerial barrages. Obama’s campaign aired a commercial that essentially compared Romney and Bain Capital, his former private-equity firm, to “a vampire — they came in and sucked the life out of us,” referring to a steel company in Missouri owned by Bain and which filed for bankruptcy in 2001.
Having issued that blast, Obama then flew to New York and raised $2 million at a fundraiser sponsored by Tony James, the head of the Blackstone Group. And yes, that is a private-equity firm that presumably behaves like a vampire. Go figure.
The Republicans responded with a commercial produced by CrossroadsGPS, an independent GOP organization co-founded by former White House adviser Karl Rove. The commercial accused Obama of breaking his promise to not raise taxes on families earning less than $250,000 a year.
The Obama commercial was misleading and nasty. Steve Rattner, who headed up the auto bailout for Obama, called it “unfair.” The Crossroads commercial was one part accurate, one part supposition and one part distortion.
Anyone watching Obama’s commercial might conclude that Bain Capital bought the Missouri steel company and a few days later shoved it into bankruptcy for a quick profit. In reality, Bain bought the steel company in 1993 and it did not file for bankruptcy until 2001.
In addition, the commercial neglected to mention that the late 1990s were brutal to the entire U.S. steel industry. From 1998 through 2001, as many as 19 steel companies filed for bankruptcy protection, citing the flood of cheaper imports.
The Crossroads commercial also performed a sleight of hand clearly designed to give the viewer the impression that Obama broke his word on taxes. After pointing out Obama’s promise to hold down taxes on families earning less than $250,000 a year, the commercial declared there were 18 tax increases in the health law, citing a 2011 study by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative non-profit in Washington.
It’s true. Heritage concluded there are 18 tax increases in the law. But only three appear to be paid by those in the middle class. At least two of the 18 affect only couples earning more than $250,000 a year.
So it would have been accurate for the commercial to say that Obama violated his pledge with three tax increases that affect the middle class. But 18 simply is false.
There are two possible explanations: Either the young researchers who dug out the information are not very bright and could not comprehend the Heritage report. Or, more likely, the producers of the commercial just decided to put one over on TV viewers.
The strategy by both parties is obvious. Obama wants to define Romney as a cruel and somewhat incompetent business executive. By contrast, Republicans hope to convince voters that Obama is in over his head when it comes to the economy.
But couldn’t they at least rely on the truth to make their cases? The late Roger Tracy, who served as a Republican Franklin County commissioner, used to say that politicians “could use the truth as a sword.” In these two commercials, they didn’t come close to that standard.
Torry is chief of the Columbus Dispatch Washington bureau. He can be reached at email@example.com.