CINCINNATI — A seemingly offhand utterance from President Obama has turned into a major point of contention between the two campaigns, as Team Obama tries to explain what the president meant when he told a crowd of supporters that “Voting is the best revenge.”
It happened in Springfield, Ohio Friday as Obama was discussing the economic policies of the 1990s. When Obama referred to “a Senate candidate by the name of Mitt Romney,” the crowd booed his opponent’s name — certainly not unusual reaction at political rallies of both parties. Then Obama said, “No, no, no — don’t boo, vote. Vote. Voting is the best revenge.”
It was an ugly and small-minded moment, especially for the end of a campaign when candidates usually try to stress larger, optimistic themes. Romney incorporated the “revenge” line in his speech in Ohio Friday night, saying that while Obama advises revenge, he, Romney, wants people to vote “for love of country.”
As Obama traveled to northern Ohio Saturday morning, campaign official Jen Psaki was asked about the “revenge” remark. According to a White House pool report, Psaki said Obama had been speaking in the context of Romney’s “scare tactics” in Ohio. The Republican is “frightening workers in Ohio into thinking, falsely, that they’re not going to have a job,” Psaki said, according to the pool report. “And the message [Obama] was sending is if you don’t like the policies, if you don’t like the plan that Gov. Romney is putting forward, if you think that’s a bad deal for the middle class, then you can go to the voting booth and cast your ballot. It’s nothing more complicated than that.”
The problem is, the president was actually not speaking in the context of Romney’s highly-controversial ads about bailed-out Chrysler adding production of Jeeps in China. In fact, Obama had not said a word about the Jeep controversy when he said “revenge.” His speech had touched on Hurricane Sandy, on the progress the American economy has made in the last few years, on his national security accomplishments, on the choice Americans will make on November 6, on Bill Clinton’s record — on a lot of things, but not on Jeep.