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What Dems need for GOP debate and Election 2012: A Shakespearean Falstaff

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That sleight of hand is right up there with sawing a body in half on stage. Republicans in Congress have convinced a whole raft of middle-class voters to accept a tax policy that favors the rich and runs contrary to the interests of middle-income tax-payers. And the public laps it up under the impression that any taxes kill jobs. If that’s true, what about the billions in cash that corporations are hoarding even as they still don’t hire?

But I have to come back to the Texas governor if I’m thinking of best carnival barker. He’s persuaded an impressive number of Americans he is truly a conservative who wants to preserve the past while surreptitiously running on a frighteningly radical platform.

Check it out! He wants to repeal the 16th Amendment of the Constitution abolishing the federal income tax (though he seems to be backing away from that now). He wants to scrap the 17th Amendment and return the power to elect US senators to state legislatures. He wants a new constitutional amendment giving our so highly esteemed and competent Congress the power to overturn US Supreme Court decisions by a two-thirds vote.

Perry’s radical list goes on, including one giving the federal government power to control a woman’s body, outlawing abortions by constitutional amendment.

Falstaff never encountered the Internet, but if he had, he might have also come across this popular tweet, exposing a big weakness of Democrats:

“There was just a 5.8 earthquake in Washington. Obama wanted it to be 3.4, but the Republicans wanted 5.8, so he compromised.” That kind of introspective gibing could keep many Democratic voters at home next year.

If there is one certainty in politics, it is that politicians can survive just about anything but being joked about. Recall President Jimmy Carter – attacked by a “killer rabbit” while fishing.

The winner of the 2012 election may well be the candidate who succeeds in getting voters to laugh loudest at his or her opponent.

But that person will also have to watch to make sure the joke is not reversed. Falstaff, after all, bemused Prince Hal until this prince became a king and abandoned his vain, if humorous, companion.

Walter Rodgers, a former senior international correspondent for CNN, writes a biweekly column.

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