Here's some heartening news for those of you keeping score at home: We're only halfway through the GOP presidential primaries.
Wait, don't jump!
Some good may yet come from the GOP's death-march. The race has thus far been so destructive that it's managed to do the impossible: Americans are uniting... against Citizens United. Thanks to the intraparty negativity, support for overturning the case has gone from 62 percent in January to 80 percent in March, and presented President Obama with a rare opportunity. In the off-chance that healthcare is overturned and bin Laden emerges from the Arabian Sea like the skeletons in Pirates of the Caribbean, here's fertile ground for Obama to go legacy-hunting. He should campaign for a constitutional amendment to end money-as-speech in politics. Thanks to Super PACs, Newt Gingrich, and the most damaging primary battle in two decades, it's actually becoming feasible.
The Court's decision -- in effect, to bless unlimited corporate donations to proxies "unaffiliated" with the campaigns -- has blasted Pandora's box into a million pieces. And, by god, the splinters are flying everywhere, especially into the eyes of the Republicans.
The Super PAC-hate is widespread and multi-factored, but we begin with the never-ending circus that is the Newton Leroy Gingrich campaign. The physics of presidential politics used to be simple: when popular support dried up, a campaign would run out of cash and close shop: thus, action and reaction. Not anymore, friends. We now live in a world of Newt-onian mechanics: When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, that immovable object finds a sugar daddy to bankroll his tantrums.
By all accounts, we should have been rid of the speaker after Iowa. With the exception of close relatives and a few enthusiasts in Georgia, nobody wanted to invest in a scene from Don Quixote. But, lo! Enter Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas billionaire and benefactor to Gingrich's ego-trip; he's like Magwitch, the generous convict in Great Expectations, and he's showered his bloated 'Pip' candidate with cash so feverishly, you'd think the man had developed an allergy to paper. (If you haven't been acquainted with Mr. Adelson, he feels very strongly about Israel's security, and looks a lot like the Indiana Jones villains whose faces melt off when they open the Ark of the Covenant.)
And so, thanks to a single, obscenely rich fellow, Gingrich has been permitted to extend his Monty-Python/Black Knight imitation until we all go bananas.
(Watch Newt below. "Tis but a flesh wound!").
Yet as Gingrich runs around the country insisting he's a "world-historical figure," waving farcical gas station logos, and making promises about plummeting prices plausible only on his imagined moon colony, Republicans and Democrats alike are struck by the utter preposterousness of the charade. Nothing has so exposed the laughable impracticality of Citizens United as crisply as Mr. Adelson's one-man marching band for a dude most Americans wouldn't trust running a 7-Eleven. So, really, I suppose we should thank Adelson and join him in Vegas to celebrate.
Beyond the Gingrich specter, Super PACs have also led to the most negative bloodbath in primary history. Hit-job ads are effective at destroying their target, but have also, historically, blemished the attacker enough to discourage unbridled use. It's the reason you don't see Coke running commercials that begin with an ominous voice whispering "Pepsi tastes good... but is it really healthy for you?... Coke is an American company with American values." It's unbecoming.
But from behind the veiled anonymity of Orwellian names like "Restore our Future," there's no incentive to hold back. Hence, the thousands of shockingly aggressive intraparty assaults, the likes of which nobody has ever seen. Voters everywhere have felt ambushed by the cascade of constant primal shrieking. They can't escape it; not in hotels, not in cars, not in their homes. The attacks have disillusioned Americans' already cynical view of government, and left a bad taste in their mouths. And rest assured, the general election is going to make this look like Jenga. Americans in swing-states will be vomiting in trash bins by November.
Finally, and most importantly, Super PAC vitriol has left the GOP nominee-in-waiting with a bloody nose. Thanks to nuclear exchanges like this one, Mitt Romney's unfavorability rating has hit 50 percent, an unprecedented number for a nominee. When and if Mr. Romney loses the election, look for Republicans to blame the Citizens-encouraged brawling for delivering a wounded candidate into the ring. The party is already adopting the narrative.
So, what to do? Rebalancing the Court could certainly lead to a reversal, but President Obama should go big -- blaze the trail with a call for constitutional amendment. There are enormous hurdles, of course. For one thing, the requisite two-thirds Congressional support and three-fourths state ratification is a daunting percentage in 2012 America. But polls indicate we're already close, and the fall battle will only spike support. And, yes, Obama's endorsement of his own Super PAC will expose him to charges of hypocrisy; but surely few reasonable voters expect a candidate to unilaterally disarm while the current law stands. We didn't abolish our nuclear weapon stockpile to set an example during the Cold War, after all. Of course, most difficult will be the corporate lobbyists standing in the way of a campaign finance overhaul.
But the public is on the president's side. Such a call to action would be bold; popular; and necessary. America's owner's manual needs revising. The Super PAC pandemonium has made that clear.
So shoot for the moon, Mr. President. Just make sure you don't hit Newt's colony.
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