Roundtable: Is 2012 the nastiest campaign cycle yet?
Last Updated 4:14 p.m. ET
(CBS News) On "Face the Nation's" political roundtable Sunday, Washington Post columnist and former George W. Bush adviser Michael Gerson said the Obama campaign's attacks on presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital are a far cry from the days of hope and change, and make the president's reelection effort look as if it's being run ""by a nasty 13-year-old."
It's also the message the Romney campaign is trying to circulate in a new ad that aired during Sunday's broadcast, featuring Bob Schieffer asking, "What ever happened to hope and change?" ,/P>
Schieffer said he was unaware of the ad (which is not affiliated with him or CBS News), and that the footage was used without permission. "It comes as a total surprise to me," said Schieffer, who added that his statement was presented out of context.
Still, the "Face the Nation" host classified the spot as being "slow out of the gate," considering an Obama ad that hit airwaves more than 24 hours earlier, pairing the former Massachusetts governor's rendition of "America the Beautiful" from a January campaign stop with a series of articles alluding to his offshore assets and history with Bain Capital, which was found to have shipped some jobs overseas.
Gerson told Schieffer the Romney campaign was likely "taken aback" by both the ad and a recent remark by Obama's deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter chalking up Romney as either a liar or a crook. Cutter was responding to a Boston Globe story alleging that Romney stayed on as head of Bain three years longer than he's claimed, based on SEC documents.
"This was a genuine innovation, which is to accuse a presidential candidate of the possibly committing a felony," Gerson said. "I've been involved in presidential campaigns - that's not actually politics-as-usual. I think it's a serious challenge. This is a campaign, an Obama campaign, that tends to not just criticize but to vilify. This week they were really a combination of Huey Long and Michael Corleone."
But New York Magazine's Frank Rich disagreed that presidential politics have soured, and took issue with Gerson's characterization of the Obama campaign's strategy, arguing that it's "exactly the tactics [Gerson's] former boss [George W. Bush] used, or people around him, in 'swiftboating' John Kerry."
"So this is nothing new, and for all the talk about Obama and hope and change, in the last campaign, the truth is he ran negative ads then," Rich said, citing one that featured a "doddering John McCain" unsure of how many houses he owned.
"So it's not as if [Obama] ran as a Mother Theresa entirely in 2008; you have to mix it up."
Rich said Romney's muddied history at Bain is fair game for the Obama campaign, pointing out that similar questions arose when Romney ran against Ted Kennedy for a Massachusetts Senate seat in 1994. "It's almost two decades later, and he can't answer these questions?" Rich asked. "I think that's a character issue."
CBS News chief White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell reported that of the $100 million the Obama campaign's spent on advertising this cycle, more than $50 million has gone toward Bain-related messages. "This is not just an effort to disqualify Mitt Romney; this is an effort to destroy him early on in this campaign," she said.
Gerson decried the ads as "juvenile viciousness." Schieffer, meanwhile, said the "hopeless romantic" in him longed for the days when candidates "come up with some more things on what they're going to do, not what's wrong with the other guy."
But, said O'Donnell, "This isn't Little League."
Lindsey Boerma is senior video producer for CBSNews.com.Follow on Twitter »
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