Schram: Can Obama, Romney take high road?

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney (Credit: AP)

We begin this week a new periodic effort to show how we can all help drive some of the hate out of what has already become the Hate Politics of 2012.

Try demanding that your side take the lead by launching a new initiative -- not to attack the other side, but correct a few egregious lies, distortions or deceptions. Just to prove your candidates still deserve your votes.

We will begin with a potentially inflammatory issue that actually has little to do with constitutionally prescribed presidential duties, but a lot to do with leadership: gay marriage; also gay (and civil) rights.


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We will start this occasional series by focusing on examples from the campaigns of President Barack Obama and his presumptive Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. And we'll question whether my news-media colleagues have done their journalistic jobs properly.

TOPIC ONE

On May 10, the day after Obama announced his first unequivocal support of same-sex marriage, his campaign released a web video ad attacking Romney for not just opposing same-sex marriage but denying a number of rights to gay couples -- including the right to adopt children. Obama's ad asked, "What rights would Romney deny?," and then listed several, including "adopting children together." Then "DENIED" was stamped across these rights, in big red letters.

But PolitiFact.com, the nonpartisan Pulitzer Prize-winning site headed by the Tampa Bay Times' Washington bureau chief, Bill Adair, did the journalistic due diligence that used to be routine for most news organizations. It concluded that Obama's ad assertion was simply "false." PolitiFact found that Romney has for years supported the rights of same-sex couples to adopt children, providing the state agrees to allow it. In 2011, PolitiFact reported, Romney told the Ames (Iowa) Tribune editorial board: "My preference again would be to have a national standard, with one standard for the nation. Now that doesn't mean that same-sex couples can't enter into domestic partnerships, and the benefits associated with domestic partnerships could be, developed from, by enterprise, by the state, by the federal government. So one could say, for instance, that in Iowa a same-sex couple can come together, can adopt a child. And they can have hospital visitation rights and so forth. I mean ... each state can decide the benefits associated with people who live in domestic partnerships."

TOPIC TWO

On May 11, a Washington Post report, headlined "Romney's pranks could go too far," detailed a 1965 incident when Romney was a student at Cranbrook School, an elite Michigan boys' prep school. Romney reportedly led students in an attack on a new student, a presumed homosexual who had bleached-blond hair he wore draped over one eye. As Romney's classmates reportedly held down the youth, who was said to be tearfully screaming for help, Romney wielded a scissors and cut the boy's long hair. The student-victim, John Lauber, who died in 2004, once told a classmate, "It was horrible." Romney told Fox News that he didn't remember the incident, but apologized for pranks that "might have gone too far." Romney also denied he thought the youth was homosexual: "I had no idea what that person's sexual orientation might be." Timeout for truth-telling -- about Romney and the media.

On Romney: No person I've talked with, including big Romney supporters, believes Romney didn't remember the incident and didn't believe Lauber was gay. All believe the memory would be unforgettable.

On the media: What if the identical attack on a perceived homosexual youth was committed by rednecks driving pickups or Harleys, in Texas or South Carolina? Or any gang in any inner city? Would the media label it a mere "prank"? Or would cable talking heads chatter about whether it was a criminal assault or even a hate crime? Did the elite media give Romney's elite preppies a pass they wouldn't reflexively give lower-strata kids? Americans are forgiving, once old truths are told and real remorse is conveyed.

Obama and Romney supporters can help their side gain a political advantage not by attacking the other side, but by convincing their side to travel a higher road. We want to feel good about our leaders once again.

Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. Email him at martin.schram@gmail.com.

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