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On January 4, 2001 I had the opportunity to address the Senate Republican retreat at the Library of Congress. (Two weeks later, I would speak to the Senate Democratic retreat in the same room). So I decided to give the same speech. My main theme was in the razor thin election of 2000, neither party actually won. The election for President was a muddle and few congressional seats changed hands -- in fact, the popular vote for both houses was also tied. Based on post-election polling I did on issues, I presented to both sides what I thought was a consensus agenda, including a section on campaign finance reform. In the discussion that followed among the Republicans, I was captivated by the eloquence of Virginia's John Warner who announced at that meeting that he would support his colleague John McCain on limiting the influence of PACs in election campaigns. I only paraphrase Warner's words here: 'When I first ran for office I had a clear picture of who my enemies were and who my friends were. But in today's climate, I am less worried about my enemies than I am of my friends who are supporting me by the saying the most awful things. I don't want to have anything to do with them.'

I am reminded of this great moment by Priorities USA -- a prominent and well-funded PAC in support of President Obama's re-election - which produced an ad that was essentially linking GOP candidate Mitt Romney's private sector work at Bain Capital with the loss of one man's job, the loss of his health benefits, and the tragic loss of his wife to cancer. Supporters of Mr. Romney have rightfully cried foul. Supporters of the President have dissected the ad and come up with all sorts technicalities like "well, the ad never ran", "this is war and politics is no holds barred" and so on.

The ad stinks. I said so in my weekly "Obama Report Card" I write for the Washington Times. And I said that Mr. Obama should have issued a strongly worded statement distancing himself from this kind of garbage. I graded him an "F" for not doing so... and then the barrage of emails came in. Several suggested the old rule that is tantamount to "you killed my brother and raped my sister thus I get to kill your brother and rape your sister". Or even "before you get to kill my brother and rape my sister, I must do a preemptive strike".

Please. I cannot say that dirty campaigning is against the American tradition. When we consider that the Federalists labeled Thomas Jefferson an "atheist", "a whoremonger", and (even worse) "a francophile", we realize that this kind of stuff goes way back. Historians suggest that Alexander Hamilton was behind campaign fliers that hinted that his nemesis Aaron Burr was sleeping with his own daughter. We know that things didn't turn out so well for Mr. Hamilton, who was killed by Burr in a gun duel.

And this kind of thing continued. The GOP labeled Democratic candidates as dominated by "Rum (anti-Irish), Romanism (anti-Catholic) and Rebellion" (supporters of the Confederacy). And Lyndon B. Johnson's campaign in 1964 ran one ad one time leaving the strong impression that his opponent Barry Goldwater could have us destroyed by an atomic bomb.

But none of this history nor the weak argument that "my side can't get rolled" makes any of this right. In fact, Mr. Obama was actually given an opportunity to use this ad to distance himself from the Supreme Court decision that allowed unlimited PAC money in the first place. Obama could have used this sad episode as a teaching moment and to stake the higher ground.

Sure the ultimate goal of politics is winning. History looks favorably upon George H.W. Bush but in 1988 his campaign team savaged then-Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis to the point of making a very good man a national laughingstock. The campaign was over the top that later a dying Republican strategist Lee Atwater called Mr. Dukakis to apologize for his tactics.

When all is said and done, the Priorities USA ad may be forgotten and prove to not be any kind of factor in the election. Except that it was not over the top, it was actually under the bottom. Atwater got to make a death bed apology. The Democratic Party and the President's campaign should stop making lame excuses about not being wimps. Someone should take the high road and stop this trash.

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