On February 1, Mitt Romney said he didn’t care about the poor. Of course, that’s not what he meant; he was taken out of context with a poor choice of words intended to convey the notion that safety nets for he indigent were already in place, and he was most concerned at the moment about the beleaguered middle class. His status as a multi-millionaire, however, painted a large political target on his back which his chief competitor du jour, Rick Santorum, wasted no time loosing a barb into. Romney spluttered for days trying to undo the damage.

On  March 19, Santorum, clumsily trying to underscore that his message was much bigger than one issue, said he didn’t care about the unemployment rate. The Romney campaign had its revenge, its captain proclaiming in no uncertain terms that the American public could rest assured that he, Mitt, cared. A lot.

Perhaps this illustrates why the support for the front-runner in the Republican race is, at best, lukewarm. My idea of a leader is some one who rises above the fray, the pettiness that clutters the political landscape before every election. Had Romney come forth with the statement, “I know my esteemed colleague just used a poor choice of words, as I did last month. Of course we all care about the poor and unemployed,” he would have garnered my respect. Worse than what the candidates’ behavior says about their character is what it says about their view of the American people: we’re too stupid to understand contextual speech.

Or … perchance I’m the dunce. I’ve heard many a political pundit describe how negative campaigning is very effective. Perhaps enough people follow the political process so peripherally that sound bytes taken out of context are at the heart of their decision-making. In which case the candidates, regardless of their inclinations, feel they must follow their campaign advisors’ warnings and ramp up this mindless sniping. Just once, I’d like to see a leader rise above it all, like a modern-day George Washington, and speak the truth we’d like to hear from men of honor. But George is long gone. In his place remains only a city honoring his name.

Sometimes I think he’d take it back if he could.


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