Within about 12 hours of last week's debate, both the Obama and Romney campaigns released new TV ads, both on tax policy. The president's ad noted his challenger's misleading rhetoric on the size of Romney's proposed $5 trillion tax cut.
Romney's ad pushed a very different message.
At a certain level, this is the latest in Romney's "I'm rubber and you're glue" strategy. Obama says Republicans will kill Medicare, so Romney says Democrats will kill Medicare. Obama says Republicans are waging a war on women, so Romney says Democrats are waging a war on women. Obama says Romney is keeping policy details secret until after the election, so Romney says Obama is keeping policy details secret until after the election.
And Obama says Romney's plan would lead to middle-class tax increases, so Romney launches an ad saying Obama's plan would lead to middle-class tax increases. The GOP campaign desperately wants to muddy the waters so that voters who care about key issues assume the candidates are essentially the same, or at least equally offensive.
But this particular ad is more glaring than most. It touts an "independent, non-partisan study" which concludes that "Barack Obama and the liberals" will raise taxes on the middle class by $4,000 per family.
And what's wrong with that? First, as my friend Allen McDuffee reported, the "independent, non-partisan study" is actually an analysis -- not a study -- by the American Enterprise Institute's Alex Brill. Is AEI non-partisan? As a technical, legal matter it is, but "ideologically, one would be hard-pressed to find somebody at AEI who didn't identify themselves as conservative."
Second, the AEI analysis is itself dubious.
Brill came up with the figure by projecting the cost in tax revenue of servicing the debt incurred under Obama's budget. But to characterize that as proof of a tax increase is ridiculous, and the Romney ad wildly inflated the figures anyway.
And finally, far from being "independent" and "non-partisan," AEI scholars are actually Romney campaign advisers, which makes claims of independence that much sillier.
Those who see the attack ad won't know these relevant details, but they should.