The Republican Florida fracas showed the ugly side of political strategy: When the issues won't work, assassinate the opponent's character.
The problem is the future may be assassinated as well.
Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have reduced their campaigns to a slash and burn political style that has left the political landscape smoking with the acrid stench your nose rebels against when smelling a burning garbage dump. The fumes are likely to linger all the way into November.
Both Gingrich and Romney got infected with an ad hominem style, and infected their campaigns with what I call the "AH syndrome"-the deadly ad hominem disease.
Literally, the Latin means "against the man," or person. When a candidate can't succeed through arguments centering on an opponent's stance on legitimate issues, desperation lures the office-seeker to attack the person and character of the individual he or she is running against.
True, as I said awhile back in a column about Herman Cain, candidates must be "salted" so that character problems can be revealed and subjected to the healing power of public scrutiny. However, as in the case of Cain and others, the political process can take care of that. Opponents don't have to reduce themselves to the pitiful last resort of the ad hominem style.
Ad hominem attacks come perilously close to a style Jesus warned about when He said, "whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell." (Matthew 5:22 NASU) Jesus' words were directed against the very strategy that assaults the person rather than the legitimate issue.
Winston Churchill, for all his greatness, was a master of the style. He said of Clement Attlee, one of his opponents, that he was "a sheep in sheep's clothing," and "a modest man with much to be modest about."
At least Churchill could practice ad hominem with a certain eloquent elegance, more like a quick and deadly stiletto thrust than a wild battering with a sledgehammer.
Sarah Palin wrote recently that she was "sadly too familiar" with tactics seeking to shred a candidate and her family. "The left," wrote Palin, "seeks to single someone out and destroy his or her record and reputation and family using the media as a channel to dump handpicked and half-baked campaign opposition research on the public."
That's bad enough, but it's even more destructive when the AH syndrome affects candidates within the same party. So Republicans have had to choose between Newt Gingrich, an "influence peddler" in Mitt Romney's view, and Romney, a man who says things that "are just plain factually false" (a liar) according to Gingrich.
And those are the milder ad hominisms.
Meanwhile the Democrats cackle and rub their hands as they watch their potential Republican opponents sicken one another with the AH syndrome.
Call it "Esau-ism." Isaac's lout of a son is the historic poster child for those who focus only on short-term interests. Esau happily traded off his inheritance for a pot of stew. He gained the immediate but lost the future.
Candidates who practice the ad hominem style may win primaries, but at the cost of the general election. The ad hominem strategy sends weakened office-seekers into the big battle. All the opposition has to do is drag out the very clubs with which the opponent has been hammered by people in his own party.
This is especially true in a campaign run against an incumbent who does not have to expose himself to the bitterness of a primary campaign within his own party. That's why candidates sickened with the AH syndrome not only risk killing off one another politically, but assassinating the future as well.