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Political Animal


By Brian Morton | Posted 4/21/2010

Historically, professional card cheats have never called their actions "cheating." The preferred term, an Orwellian euphemism designed to allow the users to absolve themselves of guilt, is "advantage play." In that they are taking advantage, usually unfairly, of a competitor.

This kind of mindset usually comes out of the "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" mentality. In politics, we all know history is usually written by the winners, which then allows them to further whitewash the record.

John F. Kennedy won the West Virginia Democratic presidential primary in 1960 amid allegations by his opponents that his father dumped large sums of money into the race to ensure his victory. Afterward, Kennedy sought to make light of the accusations, joking that his father sent him a telegram saying, "Don't buy a single vote more than necessary. I'll be damned if I'm going to pay for a landslide." After the election, when one pundit called his advisors "coruscatingly brilliant," Kennedy responded, "Sometimes these guys forget that 50,000 votes the other way and we'd all be coruscatingly stupid."

Undoubtedly there are hard-core conservative followers of former Gov. Robert Ehrlich who to this day still maintain that Jack Kennedy won the presidency by cheating. But aside from a great head of hair, probably the only thing Bobby Smooth shares with JFK is a ruthlessness when it comes to competition. Except the main difference is, Ehrlich is showing a marked propensity for what gamblers call "advantage play."

Consider once again the always-contentious issue of debates. The last time they faced off, despite both Ehrlich and Gov. Martin O'Malley having dealt with any potential intraparty competition by June, voters only got to see them in one televised debate, which came about after a last minute agreement in October. Four years prior, Ehrlich only met Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in one debate.

This time out, the day before Ehrlich officially declared he was going to be a candidate, O'Malley called him out, asking for a debate on WBAL-AM. This, of course, is the same radio station from which Ehrlich has spent the last four years using as a platform to bash the current governor.

Ehrlich's answer? Sure, they can "debate." But with no moderator and no questioners--and on Bobby's show, with Bobby as host, in Bobby's sandbox and with Bobby's toys.

This isn't exactly what one would call an even playing field. When you debate a radio show host on his own turf, he controls the tempo, the buttons, and the microphone. The "guest," as it were, is subject to whatever arbitrary controls the host decides to put on the show, and the listeners are completely unaware of what goes on behind the scenes.

What kind of a counteroffer is that?

It's the kind of counteroffer you get from someone whose campaign, on the day of the 2006 gubernatorial election, bused in black people from Philadelphia and paid them $100 and lunch to hand out flyers in African-American precincts in Baltimore and Prince George's County that said "Democratic Sample Ballot" with red checks in the boxes for Ehrlich and then-Senate candidate Michael Steele, who were not identified as Republicans.

It's the kind of counteroffer you get from someone whose campaign, on the day of theA 2002 gubernatorial election, bused in homeless people from Washington, D.C., into Prince George's in order to hand out flyers bearing the words "Democrats for Ehrlich."A 

Baltimore area Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) told The Washington Post, "They handed me this big, beautiful piece of literature. It was better than any of the literature I have ever produced . . . I said, 'Boy this is a wonderful photo.' There's my pastor, and [then-Housing and Urban Development Secretary] Mel Martinez, and [former Baltimore delegate] Tony Fulton and myself. Then, I saw Ehrlich in the picture, and I saw the words and I said, 'Uh oh.' "

It's the kind of counteroffer you get from a man who as governor in 2006 fights tooth and nail against a clean air bill, to the point where his staffers close the door to the governor's office and claim it closed at 5 p.m. when the state Senate delivers it--and then claims credit for it in a signing ceremony where the governor doesn't even invite the bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince Georges County).

This is what's considered "fair play" from the likes of Bobby Smooth Ehrlich,A  the man who wants to be governor for another four years. Four more years of firing employees who serve as the institutional memory of the government and replacing them with lackeys notable only for their loyalty. Four more years of game-playing with fee increases, solely to be able to attempt to claim he "never raised your taxes." Four more years of smiling Bobby Tourist Guide, popping up at your door on television.

This is Bob Ehrlich's version of "advantage play." And now you, the voter, are sitting at the card table with him. Again.

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