There isn't all that much benefit to civility in politics. Oh, everyone will say that they prefer candidates who are polite and courteous, but in reality most of us find it amusing when our own side is uncivil, and appalling when the other side is. There are limits, of course—that asshat from the Daily Caller who heckled President Obama during his prepared remarks the other day was condemned by pretty much everybody across the ideological spectrum. But of late, things have gotten pretty juvenile, as when the Romney campaign sent its bus to an Obama event to drive around out front honking its horn. Truly an inspiring testament to the democracy forged by the Founders those many years ago.
Naturally, somebody asked Romney himself about this, and he reacted with the kind of response candidates give when asked about something strategically critical to their campaigns, like negative advertising:
Mitt Romney has declined to call on his supporters to stop heckling President Barack Obama's campaign.
He told Fox News Radio on Tuesday that he doesn't believe in "unilateral disarmament," but said it would "be a nice thing" if both sides would stop yelling at each other during campaign events.
Over the weekend, Obama adviser David Axelrod condemned anti-Romney heckling during the Republican candidate's bus tour, which ends Tuesday in Michigan.
Romney was asked if he would also condemn heckling during Obama events. He declined.
How do we explain this? Is Mitt Romney really reluctant to give up the enormous strategic benefit he gets from hecklers? I doubt it. No, I think it's really about sending a message to Republican base voters. The message is this: I can be a jerk, just like you want me to. I'll refuse to pay Barack Obama an iota of respect, just like you want me to. It's actually not a bad idea—if you can offer those base voters a series of stylistic concessions, they won't bother making noise about your past support of an individual mandate, or cap and trade, or abortion rights, or gay rights, or ... well, you get the idea.