Road to White House is paved with phony outrage

It’s only July and I don’t know how much more of this I can take.

America’s a big country, and someone’s got to govern it.

But right now presidential politics make me wish this campaign were just a big Etch-a-Sketch. Can’t we just shake it and erase everything done to this point?


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Our economy is stumbling. Our bridges are crumbling. Malevolent hands push our public schools to the brink of collapse.

Yet the presidential campaigns just wasted another week throwing theatrical tantrums over supposed insults. It’s like watching two kids at recess yell: “Your mother wears Army boots!”

It’s an old line: In politics a gaffe is when someone accidentally tells the truth.

And, in fact, the two gaffes dominating recent politics – one by Obama, one by the Romney camp – point to real and valid concerns. But the dishonest, hysterical way in which modern campaigns behave makes a sane, useful conversation nearly impossible.

Obama’s fumble came July 13 when he tripped over his off-the-cuff syntax on the way to a legitimate point. In a speech in Roanoke, Va., he was trying to make the point that the ground beneath any successful entrepreneur’s feet consists of a whole lot of government investment in education, infrastructure and the rule of law.

In context, his now notorious “You didn’t build that” remark cleared referred to bridges and highways. But it was easy for the other side to distort it as a closet socialist’s revealing insult against all entrepreneurs.

Romney surrogate John Sununu took the flap nuclear by saying Obama needed “to learn how to be an American.”

Obama’s camp struggled to change the channel, then got a gift. As Mitt Romney jetted to London for his Olympic moment, a British newspaper quoted unnamed advisers touting him as a better diplomatic partner because he shares an “Anglo-Saxon heritage.” Having landed, Romney crisply disavowed the anonymous, obnoxious comment.

But that didn’t stop David Axelrod, Obama’s campaign brain, from vamping that the Romney campaign was “stunningly offensive.” And, I guess any campaign that lets John Sununu speak for it forfeits some benefit of the doubt.

These cycles of manufactured outrage prevent useful debate. Obama, before tripping on his syntax, was framing this election’s central question pretty well: How can the government best contribute to economic growth? I’d love to see Romney be challenged to respond to Obama’s real point: How well do entrepreneurs actually do in countries where the only the only thing the government invests in are guns?

Oh well. Maybe some day.

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