ELECTION SILLINESS IS FAR FROM OVER

Georgie Anne Geyer

WASHINGTON -- Tuesday's New Hampshire primary has to go down in history as one of the silliest days in the Republican Party's history. You could put aside your absurd soap operas and just watch the candidates do their rhetorical circus tricks instead.

All the theatrics concerned leading candidate Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor had the nerve to say cheerfully, even jauntily, that "I like to fire people ..."

Oh my. Within seconds, one would have thought that the seemingly endless lineup of Republican candidates had exploded. A candidate who liked to fire people? When he should be expounding instead on how to hire them? Why, Romney was nothing but a "corporate raider"! Nothing but a man who, through Bain Capital, left companies and workers in shambles! A man born with a "silver spoon in his mouth" who could never, ever know how working people felt!

Any honest person had to watch Tuesday's campaign show -- which is what we now put on in place of the old-style political campaigning -- with disgust, and finally with disbelief. It was not only the candidates who were up to their necks in dishonesty, it was the journalists who fed them the dishonest questions.

Mitt Romney's "offensive" quote actually read like this: "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone isn't giving the good service, I want to say, 'I'm going to go get someone else to provide this service.'" It was also clear that he had been speaking about health care insurance before and after this quote -- so anyone who deliberately misread it and then built new castles-in-the-air around it had to be doing this with malicious intent.

Jon Huntsman immediately told the media that Romney "enjoys firing people, I enjoy creating jobs." Rick Perry, by then in South Carolina, described Romney and his compatriots at Bain Capital as "vultures ... sitting out there on the tree limb, waiting for a company to get sick. And then they swoop in, they eat the carcass ... and they leave the skeleton."

We have all seen far too many examples of destructive political campaigning, but Tuesday's was the worst that I have seen this campaign. That's because Romney's attackers acted so innocent and well-meaning. But in fact, they were transparent, because the day's discussions revealed how silly they really were.

Mitt Romney likes the idea of "firing" one's health insurance company? Well, who does not? Mine canceled me after a very expensive operation -- how I wish that, instead, I'd had the chance to "fire" them.

The other candidates, who endlessly spout their undying devotion to the "free market," didn't seem to realize that firing the undesirable, or opportunistic, or dishonest supplier of goods or services is exactly what the market system is all about. That way, and only that way, does capitalism constantly correct and improve itself.

Interestingly enough, it was the always original libertarian candidate, Texan Ron Paul, who, in his own curiously quizzical manner, stood up for Romney. He said that the other candidates were making a mistake in their criticism of Romney, and that they were so "out of context" and so little understood that "bankruptcy and restructuring are important principles in free markets" that he wondered if they were really conservatives.

This criticism of Romney about firing people, of course, had nothing to do with such serious questions as what he actually did at Bain Capital and whether the bankruptcies and restructuring of troubled companies was good or bad for workers. These critics were only out to bankrupt and restructure Romney and his biography -- and they cared little about whether their party looked like a collection of nitwits.

Who during this Republican campaign has lately brought up the falling American debt rating? Who has discussed what really must be done to improve our education system? To create jobs? To make America an example and inspiration to the world, and not just a boutique country where visitors can come to see what the past was like?

Not only did no one bring up these questions this week, but after the Great Firing Discussion, Romney's critics moved on to his Great Privileged Life.

Now, this is curious, because Mitt Romney's father, George Romney, the prominent governor of Michigan who was also head of General Motors, did not even graduate from high school. He and his son made money, yes, but they also used it well. Was there anything wrong about Franklin D. Roosevelt, or Teddy Roosevelt, or Jack Kennedy being president, not to speak of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson? All were born with "silver spoons" somewhere in those "privileged" bios, for sure!

It may be that once the election is held this year, there will come an end to this seemingly endless carping and crowing, but I'm not sure. I finally turned the TV to Turner Classics to get some peace and quiet. It was playing "Billy, the Kid," who killed 21 men.