Did you also notice the apparent error in your new 2012 calendar?
Mine claims January 1, 2012 was "New Year's Day." But after turning on the TV news, I'm thinking it must have been Labor Day. Because the down-and-dirty political attacks we've come to expect in a fall presidential campaign are already assaulting our ears.
And somewhere behind the curtains, President Barack Obama's message-makers must be chortling gleefully. After all, the attack themes they love to hear are trashing Republican Mitt Romney, who brags about his business experience. He is being hammered in the news and costly ads for having been a "predatory corporate raider." Also, for having been one of the venture capital "vultures" who feasted off corporate carcasses and fired thousands of workers.
And Team Obama hasn't had to spend a Democratic dime to air that message.
Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry are talking the anti-Romney trash. Gingrich is furious at having been attacked by Romney and his super-PAC pals; now Gingrich's own super-PAC pals will air a 27-minute film blasting Romney, who co-founded Bain Capital, the private equity firm that acquired troubled companies, restructured them, and resold them hoping to make a profit. Of a reported 77 large transactions during Romney's tenure at Bain, 17 firms failed or filed for bankruptcy, resulting in thousands of employees losing jobs. But Bain also restructured many companies that hired many thousands more.
But the political bottom line is that Romney seems inexorably headed toward a Republican presidential nomination -- and it could come before February. He won narrowly in Iowa's caucuses, convincingly in New Hampshire's primary, and is leading impressively in polls in South Carolina (its primary is Jan. 21) and Florida (its primary is Jan. 31). So Romney could win it all early -- even though he hasn't sparked much enthusiasm, not even from those who have voted for him.
Come November's Election Day, we may well understand that the big beneficiary of Gingrich's and Perry's January anti-Romney assaults wasn't Gingrich or Perry -- but Obama.
That's so obvious that a proper pundit should at least wonder if Obama's top strategists, David Axelrod and David Plouffe, found a way to manipulate Gingrich and Perry to do their dirty work. Nothing crass like cash payoffs, but maybe something artful.
Someday someone may write a kiss-and-tell book revealing that Axelrod and Plouffe are really secret ventriloquists -- and they skillfully made their words come out of the mouths of Gingrich and Perry. Just like ventriloquist Edgar Bergen famously did in making stars of his dummies, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd.
Gingrich and Perry have had help, of course. They had Romney. Even in his New Hampshire victory week, Romney was his own worst enemy. He supplied his opponents with all the ammunition they needed while trying to be folksy and talking without a TelePrompTer. Seeking to regale a crowd about the importance of people being able to drop an insurance company that failed to deliver as promised, Romney said: "I like to fire people."
Oops. Romney's opponents merrily took that quote out of context -- and aired it as a confession validating his critics' claims. Another time mega-millionaire Romney tried to make himself look like a man who feels the pain of people who lost jobs. So he said he too had feared he'd get a "pink slip" -- a preposterously unfeeling assertion from that rich man. (Note to self: Did anyone see if Axelrod's or Plouffe's lips were moving when those words seemed to come out of Romney's mouth?)
So here we are, just a couple of weeks into this election year -- and already we are feeling the heat of a slash-and-burn autumn election stretch run. Some poor soul, understandably confused by all the blather on the TV news, may show up on Valentine's Day wearing a Halloween mask.
The presidential nominees we will vote on in November may be decided this month -- painfully early. We may be force-fed a presidential campaign that blasts away at us for eight months -- making 2012 the longest year in recorded history.
Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.