We’ve all seen political ads that attack opponents through edited, out-of-context quotes. It’s not every day, however, that a campaign admits that its ad is deliberately deceptive. “All ads do that,” a top Mitt Romney operative told Thomas B. Edsall of The New York Times this week. “Ads are propaganda by definition.” The ad in question, produced by the Romney campaign, uses an audio clip of Barack Obama saying, “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” The cleverly edited clip comes from October 2008; at the time, candidate Obama said, “Sen. McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’” Romney’s campaign makes no apologies for using a snipped portion of Obama’s statement to make it sound as if he were talking about himself in 2012; political ads are “agitprop,” the operative said, “manipulative pieces of persuasive art.” In other words: Hey, this is a rough business. Get over it.
Good advice, that. We are heading into what may be the dirtiest presidential campaign in history—at least in pure mega-tonnage of dirt. The Obama campaign is planning to use the $1 billion it hopes to raise to portray the Republican nominee as a dangerous, heartless radical; that nominee is sure to respond with a withering counterassault. And as our Briefing explains this week, a new tsunami of attack ads will inundate voters this year, thanks to the unlimited contributions pouring in to Super PACs. Political speech, the Supreme Court reasoned in opening the door to Super PACs, is a good thing, so there can’t be too much of it. We’ll see about that. Water and wine are good things, too, but try swallowing them in unlimited quantities.