Ben Adler is a contributing writer for The Nation.
On Friday Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS announced a major advertising blitz. Over the next month, beginning Tuesday, it will spend $25 million on air time in the key swing states of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia.
It will all be spent on one ad that, while it may be effective, is in no way informative. The commercial attempts to tie together two GOP talking points that actually have little to do with one another: that President Obama has failed to create enough jobs and that he has created too much federal debt.
"America's jobless rate is still too high," intones the voice over. "Barack Obama's got lots of excuses." It then shows of a montage of clips of Obama mentioning various global economic conditions. It is not at all clear that Obama necessarily offered every one of these as an excuse for the unemployment rate, rather than merely relevant pieces of context to whatever he was discussing at the time. "But Obama never blames Washington spending and skyrocketing debt," the ad continues.
There is no effort to explain why federal spending or an increase in the federal debt would lead to a higher unemployment rate. In fact, it is the opinion of most economists that deficit spending is the appropriate response to high unemployment, as it stimulates the economy. The long-term downside to more debt is higher interest rates and inflation. But interest rates and inflation remain low.
Moreover, the ad implies that the unemployment rate and the debt are Obama's fault, when they are actually the handiwork of his predecessor, for whom Rove worked.
The debt is increasing for reasons that are largely beyond Obama's control: the wars that Rove's former boss George W. Bush left for Obama to clean up, the irresponsible tax cuts Bush signed and a decline in tax revenues from the economic contraction that Obama inherited from Bush.
The notion that less federal debt would cause the economy to grow is disproved by both historical and contemporary evidence. During the Great Depression the United States began to rebound in the mid-1930s, thanks to deficit spending. After President Franklin Roosevelt cut spending in 1937, the economy dipped again. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom is currently experimenting with austerity, and it has led to their economy recovering more slowly than ours.
This is not Rove's only forthcoming effort to bombard viewers with illogical attacks on Obama's record. American Crossroads, Rove's other organization, will be airing a lot of commercials in the months leading up to the election. The Washington Post reports, "American Crossroads has reserved $40 million in air time for the final two months of the campaign. Florida is at the top with $10.2 million, followed by Ohio with $7 million, Virginia with $6.5 million, North Carolina with $4.2 million, Colorado with $3.5 million, Iowa with $3.2 million, New Hampshire with $2.7 million and Nevada with $2.2 million." Obama and his allies are unlikely to be able to match this level of spending.
Liberals have been unable to keep up with the vast fundraising ability of right-wing Super PACs. Until now the balancing factor has been that Obama's campaign has outspent Romney's campaign, especially in swing states.
Even so, the president was already at a net disadvantage when you add in spending by outside groups. According to the Post, these are the cumulative ad spending numbers to date (this does not include the two new Crossroads plans, nor a bunch of smaller groups):
Obama campaign, $49.6 million
Romney campaign, $33.8 million
Restore Our Future (pro-Romney Super PAC), $29.7 million
American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS (Republican), $29.2 million
Americans for Prosperity (Republican), $14.9 million
Democratic National Committee, $6.3 million
Priorities U.S.A. Action (pro-Obama Super PAC), $6.1 million
American Future Fund (Republican), $5.3 million
The totals from the expenditures above are $79.1 million on Romney's side and $62 million for Obama. In other words, the incumbent president — who also happens to be a very prodigious fundraiser — is being outspent, thanks to the unlimited contributions of billionaires and corporations. With the $65 million in forthcoming spending by Karl Rove's groups, Obama will be at an even greater disadvantage.
On Monday the campaigns announced their fundraising totals for the month of June, and things are looking even worse for Democrats. Romney outraised Obama by a whopping $35 million in June, $106 million to $71 million. That's the second straight month in which Romney has outraised Obama.
And that will all come on top of the barrage of negative ads from Republican groups. Despite the conventional wisdom that Obama would attack Romney to distract from the poor state of the economy, the Post finds that 100 percent of the ad spending from GOP-aligned groups Americans for Prosperity, the American Energy Alliance, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS have been negative. 58 percent of Romney's spending has been on negative ads, compared to only 44 percent of Obama's.
If anyone can win this election on the strength of a barrage of misleading negative ads, it won't be Obama, it will be his opponent.