Friday, April 20, 2012

Never can say goodbye:
The Tupac Show and what it says about us

WHEN TUPAC Amaru Shakur showed up on stage at the Coachella Festival last week, 15 years after his death by gunfire in Las Vegas, it was the sort of technological sleight of hand nobody was ready for. It was not the real Pac, of course, but an amazing simulation thanks to Digital Domain, James Cameron’s visual production company, and two hologram-imaging outfits, AV Concepts and Musion Systems, based in London.

The companies strung together clips of Shakur from concerts in his lifetime and, with the magic of ones and zeroes common to the digital age at their disposal, artfully arrayed and projected a life-size image of Tupac onto the Coachella stage, to perform “Hail Mary” and “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre (very much in the flesh).

The reaction was swift. People at the festival in Indio, Calif., were by turns slack-jaw stunned or flat-out disgusted. Social media exploded, one said it was “wrong on so many levels,” others were over the top with praise for the stunt at the festival, which didn’t begin until three years after Tupac was dead.

Rihanna posted on Twitter: "#TupacBACK #unbelievable #IWASTHERE #STORY4myGrandKidz."

Drummer Questlove of the Roots tweeted: "That Pac Hologram haunted me in my sleep. Rest In Peace 2pac.......#OkIWill!!!!!!!!!!"

What’s still being explored are the prospects for this being more than a one-off. Talk quickly surfaced about the Tupac “hologram” going on tour; The Wall Street Journal reports that Dr. Dre is planning to take the AV Shakur on tour soon. “Dre has a massive vision for this,” Ed Ulbrich, chief creative officer at Digital Domain, told the Journal.

Other reports emerged that envisioned the same thing for the image bank of Michael Jackson, once the most popular entertainer in the world, and easily one of the most filmed and photographed. E! Online reported that Jackson brothers Jermaine, Tito and Marlon (preparing for their own Unity Tour starting in June) are considering a Michael Jackson video replica.

(Can Biggie be far behind?)

Never mind the fact that such big-scale parlor tricks aren’t really news. In March 2010, a 3-D hologram version of anime pop star Hatsune Miku toured in Japan with a live band, and sold out several venues. Musion Systems reports on its Web site that the same technology was used to produce Frank Sinatra performing “Pennies From Heaven” at Simon Cowell’s 50th birthday party, in October 2009.

And according to The Washington Post’s Hayley Tsukayama, the celebrity conjurings are an update of Pepper’s Ghost, “a stage trick that dates to the 1800s. In the old version, an actor would hide in a recess below the stage as stagehands used mirrors to project the image of a ghost.”

Still, for now Tupac Shakur is the master of time and space, now like before a creative force and a marketable commodity, and a stunningly visual reinforcement of the idea that death can be a brilliant career move, however unintentioned.

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THE OTHER implications of all this — what this says about us as a society — announce themselves at a level deeper than mere image exploitation. You don’t have to be a psychologist to see how the desire to regain what we’ve lost, or even its reasonable visual facsimile, isn’t freakish or ghoulish or in bad taste. It’s human nature.

The idea of taking Tupac “on tour” isn’t that different from holding on to a keepsake of the dear departed: a photograph, an audio recording, a snippet of home video that awakens the remembrance of things past. Nowhere is it written that an heirloom or a keepsake can’t be digitized, can’t be the gift that keeps on giving.

Like Natalie Cole’s haunting, lapidary duet on “Unforgettable” with her late father, Nat (King) Cole, or the box-office triumph of “This Is It,” Michael Jackson’s valedictory performance, Tupac’s AV resurrection fills a need to replace that which we deeply miss with a moment of triumph recalling those whom we once deeply celebrated.

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“The sight of thousands of screaming fans waving glow sticks while the holograph 'performs' on stage is straight out of a science fiction novel,” said Nicholas Graham in The Huffington Post, who condemned  the Hatsune Miku apparition as a “terrible omen not only for musicians but also the continued existence of the world as we know it.”

That may be true to explain the adulation for a chanteuse who never existed except in the world of anime. The Tupac event is different. In that two-song performance in California, we’ve arrived at another live-action way to pay tribute, to say “we miss you.”

The idea has deep roots in the culture. When Walt Disney introduced the audio-animatronic Abraham Lincoln at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, it broke new ground in giving physical substance to the personae and ideas of dead public figures, and recognizing our emotional attachment to them. In Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report,” the main character (played by Tom Cruise) mourns the loss of his son not with a one-dimensional photograph but with a full-size, room-filling hologram.

◊ ◊ ◊

The Tupac event shows that the means of delivering that collective reverie, its vector into the wider culture, really doesn’t matter. It’s a manifestation, however financially lucrative it is for its creators, of a collective wish fulfillment.

What many people at Coachella or online felt looking at the Tupac image — witness the tweets from people who said they watched Coachella Tupac in or near tears — isn’t much different from what we all feel when we look at grandma’s Bible, or a photograph of the mother we miss every day, or a grainy home movie of a close friend from back in the day. There’s really no difference. It's that tug of recognition. That pang of regret. Miss you Moms. See you in time, homie. Miss you Makaveli. Wish you was here. Never can say goodbye indeed.

For all our impersonal tendencies, our rapacious self-centered aspect, we see that the Tupac imagery and our reaction to it is another way to hold on to what we miss, to what we didn’t want to lose in the first place. That’s nothing but, and nothing less than, proof of the common recognition of loss that marks our humanity — regardless of the ones and zeroes needed to make it possible.

Image credits: Tupac top: Getty Images for Coachella. Tupac second: via YouTube. Disney Lincoln animatronic: National Geographic Society via Tupac bottom: Musion Systems Ltd.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Exhuming McCarthy 3.0

THE MAN asking the question at the town hall in Jensen Beach, Fla., on April 10 appeared to be your average citizen lofting an inquiry to his duly elected representative in Congress.

“What percentage of the American legislature do you think are card-carrying Marxists or international socialists?” the man asked, but asked in such a way as to suggest he might be a plant, or at least someone who knew perfectly well his question would be provocative, that he was throwing bright red meat to a very political animal.

Republican Rep. Allen West did not disappoint.

“It’s a good question,” he said. “I believe there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party … They actually don’t hide. It’s called the Congressional Progressive Caucus.”

◊ ◊ ◊

As you might expect, the actual Congressional Progressive Caucus was quick to disagree.

“We hope the people of Florida’s 22nd Congressional District will note that he repeatedly polarizes the American people instead of focusing on their interests,” the caucus’s co-chairs, Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said in an April 11 statement. “When people like Rep. West have no ideals or principles, they rely on personal attacks.”

“We will not engage in base and childish conversations that lower the high level of discourse Americans rightly expect from their representatives.”

Head unbowed and apparently unbloodied, West amplified on his comments a week later. ““No, I don’t regret it whatsoever,” West told reporters at a news conference Tuesday. “I’m not going to back down. I’m not going to be afraid about the fact that I called a spade a spade. That’s my responsibility to the American people.”

“At the turn of the century American communists renamed themselves progressives,” West said Tuesday. “There’s a very thin line between communism, progressivism, Marxism, socialism … it’s about nationalizing production. It’s about creating and expanding the welfare state.”

◊ ◊ ◊

SADLY, we’ve been here before. It’s the latest example of the politics of division, drawing sharp and usually imaginary distinctions between one American and another, for the purpose of political advantage. And on the weight of historical evidence, it’s been a divisive strategy used by extreme conservatives, from the era of the Palmer raids to the present day poisoned by the fictions of the birther movement … and right between them, the era that defined the practice, the grim years of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

The exhumation of the malignant spirit of Tail Gunner Joe didn’t just happen last week. On March 1, 2010, Keep America Safe, the right-wing advocacy group headed by the group’s chairwoman and co-founder, vice-presidential daughter Liz Cheney, released a Web video suggesting that lawyers at the Justice Department responsible for defending military prisoners in the war on terrorism share the ideological viewpoints of the al-Qaida network.

A few days later, on March 3, a story in Politico reported on Republican fundraising documents apparently lost or forgotten at a Feb. 18 Republican National Committee leadership retreat for donors and fundraisers, at a hotel in Boca Grande, Fla.

The docs, found by a Democrat at the hotel, were part of a PowerPoint presentation that included a graphic that highlighted desired motivational triggers for getting donations from conservative supporters.

One slide in the deck reads: “What can you sell when you do not have the White House, the House or the Senate? Save the country from trending toward Socialism!”

◊ ◊ ◊

And the McCarthyite spirit has trickled down to angry nativists outside the political world. In July 2010, a letter sent to Utah law enforcement officials, state government officials, TV and radio news outlets and The Associated Press anonymously outs about 1,300 residents of Utah as undocumented immigrants.

The letter written by “Concerned Citizens of America” — “a large force of tax-paying citizens … who live throughout the state of Utah” — conjured an enemies list with names, addresses, phone numbers, personal information and even the due dates of at least six pregnant women.

Utah Letter

A spokeswoman for Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert told Homeland Security News Wire that the information was “contained entirely in the Department of Workforce Services database.”

Release of the information was a violation of federal law, specifically provisions of Title II of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), enacted by Congress in 1996. The law’s Privacy Rule regulates disclosure of protected health information — the same information contained in the letter itself.

◊ ◊ ◊

“This is a very serious crime,” said Ernie Gamonal, vice chairman of the Utah Democratic Hispanic Caucus, to Homeland Security News Wire. “In the United States of America, we don’t make ‘black lists’ anymore.”

Or we shouldn’t. West’s sweeping, hysterical j’accuse, Cheney’s wanton fabrications, the RNC cynical fundraising tactic and the letter by “Concerned” xenophobes are proof that we still do. They’re revisitations of an us-versus-them mindset that pits neighbor against neighbor and breeds suspicion like a virus. McCarthy would be proud.

Someone once made the debatable observation that the definition of insanity is repeating the same action with the expectation of different results. It may or may not be the definition of insanity; it’s certainly the old ugly reliable of American politics. In the heat of an already contentious presidential campaign, the country’s facing a revival of its worst historical actions. It’s still possible to achieve the triumph of different results.

Image credits: West: Associated Press. McCarthy: public domain.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Romney’s other box

WITH RICK Santorum out of the way, and the sputtering campaigns of Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul effectively nonexistent, the path is clear for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to rightly take the role he’s laid claim to for months: presumptive Republican nominee for the presidency. And now it gets interesting.

It gets interesting because now, for the first time, with no serious competition between him and the nomination he’s sought for years, the American public has a chance to see Mitt Romney as he shifts to general-election mode. One might be inclined to say it’s a chance to see “the real Mitt Romney,” if only we had a clue what that looks like.

That fact alone is one of his biggest matters for him to overcome between now and November. An unlikely coalition, as close to bipartisan as anything in this strange season, is working to force the real Mitt Romney to please stand up, please stand up. And the candidate who’s been preaching to the choir in the primary season faces the challenge of finding what he needs to win on Election Day: a much bigger choir.

◊ ◊ ◊

Romney’s campaign has always tried to convey a sense of inevitability. This bid for the presidency, run like a cross between a military operation and a hostile takeover, got where it is by spending whatever it took to get the job done. And only part of what the Romney campaign spent was money.

The other capital — political credibility — has been spent by the candidate himself, and spent at a furious clip. In achieving his current status as the last frontrunner standing, Romney has put himself in untenable positions on a panorama of public-policy issues.

Last August, he signed a pledge to oppose gay marriage and to support a federal amendment barring marriage to same-sex couples.

He endorsed the repeal of Roe v. Wade; he's promised to dismantle Planned Parenthood; he was on board with the draconian Blunt-Rubio amendment. He's called for the ruinous process of foreclosure to accelerate for economically purgative purposes; he recommended much the same thing vis-à-vis bankruptcy as a palliative for an ailing Detroit.

But that was then, in the runup to and in the heat of a primary campaign that (given the competition on the campaign trail) he was likely to win anyway. Now, Romney faces an audience of the American people in the aggregate, and many of the positions he took in the primaries will have no traction for him in the new season now underway.

◊ ◊ ◊

Take his stance on Planned Parenthood (“we’re gonna get rid of that,” he told a reporter on March 13). For millions of women who rely on Planned Parenthood for a myriad of health services that have nothing to do with abortion, that’s likely to be a huge nonstarter in November. So is his full-throated support (in January) of the repeal of Roe v. Wade, or his February backing (almost immediately retracted) of Blunt-Rubio, which would have let employers make exemptions on health-care coverage based on how they felt about the morality of birth control — effectively replacing doctors with employers on a powerfully personal matter.

These and other positions Romney’s taken in the primary season will be his undoing. The candidate whom Joan Walsh of Salon said “looks like somebody trying to do an imitation of a regular guy” isn’t a masterful politician in the first place. We’ll watch with interest as he tries to reverse course and steer his campaign back to the navigable, palatable, populist political center.

The passion and energy he expressed in staking out those positions mean there’s really no way he can stop from sailing off the edge of the flat earth his policy ideas suggest he believes in.

◊ ◊ ◊

BUT THERE’S a bigger problem Romney faces in an attempt to tack back to centrist realities. He can’t reverse course because the more extremist forces of the Republican Party — the real Severely Conservative conservatives — won’t let him make that pivot.

In the runup to the primaries, and more recently, Romney has wooed the Tea Party and other conservative groups with pledges to repeal the Obama health-care law, privatize Medicare and support the deeply unpopular budget offered by Congressman Paul Ryan. Those are pledges they’ll hold him to, regardless of the distaste for those policy prescriptions shared by a broad cross-section of the country.

Throughout the campaign, Mitt Romney put himself in a philosophical box by lashing his campaign to the mast of improving the economy — something that’s been happening organically for many long months without him.

Now, as the all-but-certain nominee, he’s in another box of his own making: having staked out positions on a range of issues that Republicans will demand he follow through with — the same positions Democrats and the Obama re-election campaign will dare him to follow through with.

Image credits: Romney: Reuters/Darren Hauck. Editorial cartoon: Steve Breen/San Diego Union-Tribune.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Florida v. Zimmerman, at last

TODAY, after 44 days of debate and protest, and only after a special prosecutor was named to investigate the merits of an obviously tryable case of homicide, the matter of the Trayvon Martin case has its legal name. The State of Florida v. George Zimmerman, Case #1712F04573, is on the docket.

That seemingly pedestrian fact, that snapshot of legal jargon is the fruition of something that shouldn’t be as momentous as it was today, when special prosecutor Angela Corey went before the microphones in Jacksonville at 6:05 p.m., and said that Zimmerman would stand trial for second degree murder for shooting an unarmed Trayvon, 17, once in the chest point-blank with his 9mm Kel Tec semi-automatic seven-round pistol, between Twin Trees Lane and Retreat View Circle in Sanford, Fla., at dusk on the rainy evening of Feb. 26.

“[I]t is the search for justice for Trayvon that has brought us to this moment,” said Corey, the State Attorney in Florida's Fourth Judicial Circuit Court.

Zimmerman has alleged the shooting was in self-defense; with apparently no eyewitnesses, the case may hinge on forensics. But the decision to charge Zimmerman is as much a validation of the power of public protest as it is a triumph of the justice system and that system’s ability to self-correct — with a serious assist from that public protest.

The call to prosecute Zimmerman comes amid a groundswell of opposition to Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws in particular and other such laws enacted in 24 other states around the country, as well as a concerted pushback against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization of global corporations and U.S. politicians responsible for crafting hundreds of “model” bills and resolutions advancing corporate interests, a legislative bill-o-matic with a hand-in-glove relationship with lawmakers and legislatures. According to the group’s own estimate, 826 ALEC bills were introduced in statehouses in 2009, and 115 of them were made law.

In a March 29 letter to ALEC executives, a coalition of advocacy oreganizations and leaders made the connection between their actions and the Trayvon Martin case crystal clear. It was published by the Center for Media and Democracy’s PRWatch Web site.

From the letter:

Public records show the Florida law was drafted by the National Rifle Association with two Florida legislators who are ALEC members. In 2005, after it passed, the NRA's lobbyist, Marion Hammer, presented the bill as a model to a closed-door meeting of ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force. Out of the view of the press and public, ALEC legislators and corporate lobbyists voted to unanimously adopt the bill as a template to be promoted in other states. ALEC's board did not object, and the bill was approved in September 2005.

Jeb Bush, then the governor of Florida, signed the bill into law on Oct. 1, 2005.

The rest is history. And the current events of this evening in Jacksonville.

◊ ◊ ◊

IT HASN’T gone unnoticed. Since January, several of the corporations that are ALEC’s financial oxygen — Intuit, Wendy’s, Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Kraft Foods and McDonald’s — have withdrawn from ALEC membership, concerned about their companies’ image in the face of the controversial ALEC agenda, according to PRWatch.

And since the Trayvon Martin case exploded into the national conversation, opposition to Stand Your Ground laws is growing. On Wednesday, within hours of the charges against Zimmerman, mayor of New York City, called for repeal or reform of SYG laws nationally, as well a review of other pending measures in state governments.

“Florida was the NRA’s first target, and it succeeded in pushing the bill through the legislature over the objections of leading police and law enforcement leaders,” Bloomberg said at a Washington press conference. “In reality, the NRA’s leaders weren’t interested in public safety. ... they justify civilian gunplay and invite vigilante justice and retribution, with disastrous results.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Zimmerman is reportedly set for arraignment an appearance before a judge on Thursday, followed by a march towards trial that’s possibly weeks away. The wheels of the justice system grind slow already. “This case is gonna be around for a long time,” University of Florida law professor Kenneth Nunn said on tonight’s edition of Current’s “Viewpoint With Eliot Spitzer.”

But the fact of the case itself, and the growing viral outcry against the laws that made the case possible speak volumes:

It’s an answer to a question of balance. It sends the signal that the Wild West climate that Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, and others, are unleashing in this country is antithetical to an enlightened society; that it’s unacceptable to create a presumptive leverage of one life over another, or any disqualification of a life based on race or age or gender ... or garment-based suspicions run amok.

It sends a message that shouldn't need sending: Wearing a hoodie does not constitute probable cause.

Image credits: Zimmerman: Seminole County Sheriffs Dept. booking photo. ALEC logo: © 2012 ALEC.  Marion Hammer: Florida Attorney General's Office via Trayvon Martin: The Martin Family.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The winner, Rick Santorum

TODAY IN Gettysburg, Pa., two weeks before a decisive primary in his home state, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum ended his quest for the Republican nomination and ensured himself of a future in the Republican Party.

Flanked by members of his family, with one notable exception, Santorum finally admitted how uphill his spirited but financially beleaguered battle for the nomination really was, and he did it with the same populist touch of class that animated much of his campaign.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we made the decision to get into this race at our kitchen table against all the odds, and we made the decision over the weekend that, while this presidential race for us is over — for me — and we will suspend our campaign effective today, we are not done fighting,” the candidate said Tuesday afternoon in Gettysburg at the Gettysburg Hotel, the same place he spoke last month on the night he lost the Illinois primary.

◊ ◊ ◊

Santorum has a sense of the moment of the occasion. He didn’t pick Gettysburg for no reason. “What I tried to bring to the battle was what Abraham Lincoln brought to this battlefield back in 1863, when he talked about this country being conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” Santorum said Tuesday.

Almost before he’d finished his speech, umpires of the conventional political metrics were couching Santorum’s concession in fatalistic terms. But Santorum’s measured, principled exit from this race gives him a leverage, an emotional leverage, that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney still can’t command after months on the campaign trail.

That proven ability to connect with voters makes Santorum the likely beneficiary of the same unwritten rule of GOP politics that Romney enjoys right now. Next time, it may be Santorum’s turn.

It’s possible to win by losing. Rick Santorum may have done exactly that.

◊ ◊ ◊

In previous primary contests, Santorum prevailed with an accessible, direct strategy of retail politics delivered by a candidate praised for connecting with voters in a personal way.

Kept aloft by winning the Iowa caucuses, and sweeping the Colorado and Missouri caucuses and the Minnesota primary, Santorum doubled down on an attack-dog strategy that alienated some voters and confused others. The former senator lately took up the cudgel of the divisive culture warrior when his up-by-the-bootstraps campaign message was working just fine.

The easygoing retail style of Santorum that prevailed in January — think “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”-era Jimmy Stewart in a sweater vest — morphed recently to an angrier politics. Calling President Obama a "snob" for advancing the renegade idea that Americans might want to enhance their horizons with pursuit of higher education. Saying that John F. Kennedy’s pledge to support separation of church and state made him want to “throw up.”

It all got ugly when Santorum snarled at a New York Times reporter, invoking the word “bullshit” with the cameras running.

◊ ◊ ◊

THAT MOMENT of vein-popping candor might have been nothing more than momentary if it didn’t reveal the building backstory of a candidate under pressure. Under pressure for some of the right reasons, one of them having to do with the family member who was never there on the stage behind him.

Santorum’s youngest daughter, Isabella Maria, was born with Trisomy 18, a rare genetic condition and one of the three most common chromosomal abnormalities. It is quite rare, occurring in roughly 1 out of every 8,000 live births, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. But it is a condition that children rarely survive.

Bella had contracted pneumonia in January and suffered another bout of that disease earlier this month; she was released from the hospital late Monday. Her willingness to fight, against the odds, suggests that tenacity is writ large on the Santorum family DNA.

◊ ◊ ◊

Santorum operatives went on the air to suggest that, despite the bitterness that’s built up between Santorum and Romney in recent months, Santorum will do the right thing and endorse Romney for the nomination in Tampa — with a clothes pin over his month if necessary.

More problematic for Santorum in the short term is how he’ll throttle back his own deep and passionate criticism of Romney in time to make nice on the convention floor. Like his partner in Romney scorn, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Santorum has made this personal, or just short of it.

In the four months between now and August, the challenge for Santorum and Gingrich is the same one facing the Republican Party as a whole: bridging the divide between one subwing of the party and another. Before the Republicans can begin to think about winning the White House, they have to be about winning over each other. That process begins now. Or at least it should.

Image credits: Santorum concession: Reuters/Mark Makela. Santorum shouts: CBS News. Santorum and daughter Bella: From Santorum 2012 Web site video.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Running out the shoestring

MAYBE HE'S just getting tired. Maybe he’s had one too many club sandwiches in one too many rooms with a safe and an ironing board in the closet. There’s something that’s had Rick Santorum royally pissed off for about the last two weeks — but in truth, it’s probably an accretion of somethings, events plural, big and small, public and private … and a weariness with the growing perception that the Santorum 2012 bid for the presidency is, practically if not officially, over.

Call it so. There’s an abundance of evidence. The delegate math for the former Pennsylvania senator has been prohibitive from the start, but never mind that. You can make the case that the Santorum quest for the White House has been dead as fried chicken since the evening of March 19, in Moline, Ill.

That was when and where Santorum said the following, with a perfectly straight face:

“We need a candidate who’s gonna be a fighter for freedom, who’s gonna get up and make that the central theme in this race, because it is the central issue in this race. I don’t care what the unemployment rate is going to be. It doesn't matter to me. My campaign doesn't hinge on unemployment rates and growth rates,” the candidate said en route to a bruising loss to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Maybe he was exhausted. Or maybe, it’s because he wasn’t wearing his magic sweater vest when he said it. Whatever. In that bit of willful rhetorical bravado, as foolhardy and ill-advised as anything uttered by a candidate in recent political history, Rick Santorum not only ignored one of the central metrics that matter at least generally to the American people; he conveyed an insensitivity to unemployment, deprivation and loss — an insensitivity that contradicts his earliest, and most effective, populist message.

For those reasons alone, Santorum has almost certainly conveyed to Romney the Republican nomination.

But you can’t tell a sleepwalker he’s sleepwalking.

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BY THIS point, Santorum apparently couldn’t help himself. Just days later, at a March 22 rally in San Antonio, Santorum truly jumped the twin sharks of party identity and party loyalty, suggesting that the status quo in Washington is preferable to Romney in the White House.

"You win by giving people a choice,” he said. “You win by giving people the opportunity to see a different vision for our country, not someone who's just going to be a little different than the person in there," he said. “If you're going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk with what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate of the future."

The walkback was almost immediate. “What he was talking about was that they're just so similar. You've got to have differences to motivate people to vote," Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley told Yahoo News. "If there's virtually no difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, chances are they won't go out and vote.”

Then from bad to worse. On March 25, at another campaign rally, Santorum called Romney “the worst Republican in the country, the worst” for confronting the challenges of the Obama agenda.

Later that day, he responded poorly when questioned about it by Jeff Zeleny of The New York Times.

“You said Mitt Romney is the worst Republican in the country,” Zeleny said. “Is that true?”

Santorum, forehead bearing the high sheen of perspiration, responded testily: “What speech did you listen to? Stop lying! Would you guys quit distorting what I’m saying? ... Quit distorting our words. If I see it, it's bullshit. C'mon, man. What are you doing?”

He doubled down on that explosion the next day. “I don't regret taking on a New York Times reporter who was out of line,” he said. "If you're a conservative and you haven't taken on a New York Times reporter, you're not worth your salt as far as I'm concerned.”

“Rick Santorum is becoming more desperate and angry and unhinged every day,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said to The Associated Press. “He sees conservatives coalescing around Mitt Romney and he's rattled by the backlash caused by his suggestion that keeping Barack Obama would be better than electing a Republican.”

A consultant who worked on John McCain's 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns told that “[t]he lashing out at the media and grasping at straws are indicators we've entered the walking dead period.”

◊ ◊ ◊

“I’d argue Santorum should start winding it down,” said Henry Barbour, a Mississippi Republican National Committeeman and Romney supporter, to The Washington Post.

“Santorum has done a great job of making first downs on fourth and seventeen plays,” said Steve Schmidt, who managed McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, also to The Post. “His next fourth down play is in Wisconsin.”

If you believe the candidate, it won’t be his last. On Sunday, two days before the Wisconsin primary, Santorum said he’d only quit the race if Mitt Romney gathered the 1,144 delegates needed to lock down the Republican nomination.

“If Governor Romney gets that required number, then without a doubt, if he's at that number, we'll step aside," Santorum said on NBC's “Meet the Press.” “But right now, he's not there. He's not even close to it. Like I said, less than half of the delegates have been selected. We've got a long way to go.”

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