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February 2, 2012

Just Desserts?

Patricia A. Kelly

The Florida Republican presidential primary has been won handily by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and the news reports focus almost exclusively on how much he has spent and how negative his campaign ads have been.


Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was referred to as the “human Roman Candle” today by the Huffington Post, as he stormed through Florida in a rage, calling Mr. Romney a liar, a cheat, a suppressor of religious liberty, and someone who is trying to buy the election.


It’s actually mind boggling, first, that the media is focused so exclusively on this issue, and, second, that Mr. Gingrich would have the nerve – desperate or not – to complain about his opponent’s negativity.


What would be wrong with focusing on what the voters thought about the issues each candidate espouses? Enough with the personal attacks!


There were exit polls, of course. Thirty-eight percent of the voters were older than 65 (Hello, it’s Florida!), and 15 percent were Latino. The voters’ top issue was reported to be the economy. Forty-five percent of those casting ballots were looking for a candidate who can beat President Obama.


Although Florida demographics differ from those in Iowa and South Carolina, the other exit poll answers remain the same as in other states.


All this talk about talk. What does he promise? What is his platform? What do his ads say? How accurate are they? Will what he says increase his negatives? Will this bitter campaign make it more difficult to win the general election?


In the last presidential election, we chose a great talker. He proved that talking isn’t enough. He’s been, overall, a failure as a president. He’s spent a boatload of money, always blaming our economic situation on the former president, without improving the economy much at all. He proposes to spend more, bailing out and manipulating the economy. It didn’t work the first time, so let’s try it again. He’s raising the debt ceiling again, as I write.


He was traveling the world while some of the most difficult spending decisions were being negotiated by the super committee. Where was his hands-on leadership?


In any case, we’re now focusing again on what people are saying as we proceed to choose the Republican presidential nominee.


If you wish to call Newt Gingrich the leading and true conservative in this race, then – by all means – continue to listen to what he says and writes in his platform. Don’t look at his life. His speeches are impressive, as is his intelligence and wit.


However, his vitriol, his temper, his narcissism, and his past demonstrations of a lack of integrity are compelling. I don’t even have to address his sequential infidelities – he lost me when he demonstrated his hypocrisy by criticizing President Bill Clinton’s affair during the impeachment proceedings while having one himself.


Maybe he’s found redemption, but the presidency is too important to be a proving ground for redemption.


Mr. Romney, on the other hand, has lived a life that his words reflect. He has demonstrated consistency throughout his life. He’s been successful in business, in marriage, in raising successful children, in rescuing the 2002 Winter Olympics from financial disaster, and in bringing the state of Massachusetts into fiscal solvency.


Mr. Romney is what he says he is.


He has changed his opinion on occasion, but that does not mean he is fickle, creating opinions to garner votes.


Both candidates, as well as the Republican Party, would do well to consider that falling on one’s sword over social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage could mean an election loss. It would make much more sense to focus on individual freedom and responsibility than to specify exactly how it would be manifested. There are solutions out there, such as civil contracts and increased respect for the doctor-patient relationship.


It appears that both candidates have crossed the line into negative ads in their campaigns, but advertising becomes “negative” only when it is untrue. Mr. Gingrich, who started out with an experiment in clean campaigning, definitely went to the “dark side” in South Carolina, even twisting the record of Bain Capitol until prominent Republicans turned against him. He now criticizes his opponent for doing in Florida what he did in South Carolina.


One agreement I have with Mr. Gingrich is in regard to the news media. Their perpetuation of the outrageous and ignoring of the important would earn them a comedy award, if they didn’t exert so much influence over public thinking.


As we go forward, we would do well to remember that we want a president with a consistent track record, a person who has run things successfully, and who never got “ridden out of town on a rail” by the people he was leading, not just a good speaker and a fun debater.


We’ve already seen what that gets us.


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