He did not fight the fair fight

He did not fight the fair fight

Posted: Monday, March 12, 2012 7:00 pm

By DOUGLAS COHN and ELEANOR CLIFT WASHINGTON — Listening to the victory speeches on Super Tuesday, it was glaringly obvious that only Mitt Romney took the opportunity to congratulate his opponents. Romney commended Newt Gingrich for having a good night in Georgia, and Rick Santorum for winning three of the evening’s contests. At first blush, it seemed Romney is the only one of the remaining candidates who learned his manners, and who is gracious in both victory and defeat, but the subtext is quite different. Romney had just finished bludgeoning his rivals with millions of dollars of negative advertising, so he could afford to be gracious. When he congratulates his opponents on fighting the good fight, he wants voters to interpret that as meaning it was also a fair fight, and that’s all fair in love, war and politics. Much of the commentary has focused on how the Super Pacs have allowed Gingrich and Santorum to stay in the race. Each has a billionaire backer feeding money into the Super Pac supporting them; otherwise one or both would have been forced out of the race for lack of money. Yet no one has focused on Romney and the many millions that his Super Pac has poured into the race, demolishing one candidate after another. If Romney’s Super Pac did not exist, would Romney have been able to stomp out Gingrich’s emerging campaign in Iowa, and then finish off Gingrich in Florida the way he did? It’s not surprising that Gingrich is carrying such a deep grudge against Romney. He belittles Romney’s much vaunted ability to manage the economy as “managing the decay” because Romney has not offered a compelling vision for what he would do to turn around the economy. If Romney’s Super Pac did not exist, would Romney have been able to stop Santorum in Michigan or Ohio? Santorum claims that he was outspent 12 to 1 in Ohio, where Romney won by a single percentage point. Life isn’t fair, and neither is politics, but the role of money in this primary campaign, and how Romney in particular has deployed his financial resources, has had a game-changing if not corrupting influence. Nothing will alter the rules for this election season, but there should be ample evidence to go back to the Supreme Court and challenge the Citizens United decision that opened the door to the unregulated sums of money that are underwriting our politics. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the Citizens United decision for the majority, notes that there is no evidence that money coming into politics in this manner is “corrupting.” The definition of corrupting is at least partly in the eyes of the beholder, and overturning any decision of this magnitude is an enormous challenge. But Republicans who cheered Citizens United may be having second thoughts now about the corrupting role of money. A former defensive coach for the Redskins was recently in the news for confessing that he paid money to players for hard hits, and extra money for taking out of the game one of the star players on the other side. That’s not unlike what Romney has done. First it was Rick Perry who he turned his fire power on; then it was Gingrich; now it’s Santorum. Democrats are suiting up for the big game, and President Obama will have plenty of money to go one on one with Romney. A presidential campaign should be about an exchange of ideas and a debate about each candidate’s vision for the country. One of these men will win, and one will lose, and each will be gracious. The voters will judge how genuine they are in acknowledging victory and defeat or whether they are simply duping us into believing they fought the fair fight. Published in The Messenger 3.12.12

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