I don't mean the Iowa caucuses; those aren't mano-a-mano anyway. I'm thinking speculatively, actually, of what would have happened had a candidate of 200 years ago said about another what Gingrich says about Romney here:
The fact that this is a news story even today tells you that the charge still has weight. It's as if the news media has some sort of species-memory of the consequences that should follow, but won't. Instead, the story will probably be along the lines of this being Newt's last desperate outburst, further if not ultimate proof of his intemperate impulsiveness. On one hand, it may be proof of our progress as a culture if a Romney simply shrugs off this sort of personal attack and takes the attitude that it only proves the attacker's wretchedness. On the other, a Gingrich gets to make the attack without facing any consequences, except perhaps at the polls where he now seems likely to lose anyway. Our modern standard of civil liberty requires speech, and political speech especially, to be risk-free. By that standard, were Romney to demand satisfaction from Gingrich, or were he to sue his rival for libel, it would be seen as Romney suppressing Gingrich and as such suppressing dissent (presuming Romney to be in a position of power) and chilling everyone else's freedom of speech. But are we really better off when politicians can lie about each other -- I make no judgment of Gingrich's charge -- with impunity apart from the inferred judgment of an election? Is truth served? If not, how about the public good? Lest you think me bloodthirsty, all I'm really asking is for politicians to be compelled to admit error and apologize when caught in lies. Is that too much to ask?