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Is this reverse psychology?

When I was a little girl, before political correctness, my mother read me Uncle Remus stories, including the one in which Br'er Rabbit, the cunning trickster, saves his own life by persuading his captor that he is terrified of the briar patch.

"Drown me! Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please," said Br'er Rabbit. "Only please, Br'er Fox, please don't fling me into the briar patch."

Br'er Fox takes the bait, of course, and learns that Br'er Rabbit isn't afraid o f the briar patch at all.

"I was bred and born in the briar patch, Br'er Fox. Born and bred in the briar patch."

It was my first introduction to the idea of reverse psychology.

A person who's had some direct contact with Jonathan Brawner has a theory: The twice-convicted felon did help bury a body, just as his ex-wife testified that he had claimed, and it may even have been the body of construction executive John Glasgow. But he deliberately led investigators to the wrong place so that they would conclude that he was lying about everything.

If true, that's some doctoral-level psychology.

Maybe the majority on the U.S. Supreme Court was using the same sort of psychology on us all when they decided the Citizens United case. Here you go: Money equals speech and corporations equal people, and corporations and people have the right to free political speech in the form of all the money they want to spend to send whatever message they want.

So how's that working for you, America? Do you now feel that you will get better government dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal?

A "super PAC" backing Newt Gingrich seriously misrepresented Mitt Romney's celebrated career at Bain Capital in order to help Gingrich win the Republican primary in South Carolina. (It was nice of Gingrich to ask his helpers to please correct the errors.) A super PAC favoring Mitt then went nuclear on Newt to get a win in Florida. During the current election cycle, the Restore Our Future super PAC has spent almost $17 million in opposition to Gingrich, which is roughly 20 times more than it has spent in support of Romney.

And things are just getting started. President Obama's campaign last week urged his supporters to start giving money to a super PAC called Priorities USA. This was a reversal for Obama, who has been a vocal critic of the floodgates of political spending opened by Citizens United, but hypocrisy seems to be standard-issue among politicians. To be fair, it is probably too much to expect any candidate to "unilaterally disarm," in the well-chosen words of CBS News contributor Lucy Madison. If the Republican primary season is the prototype, the official Obama campaign will be able to go all hopey-changey-America-built-to-last while Priorities USA does the dirty work. And, like Romney, the president will be able to disclaim any hand in the message; like Gingrich, he'll be able to suggest that his supporters try to be accurate and fair without being able to force them to be so.

Arkansas is likely to be spared the full brunt of Citizens United, this year at least. Priorities USA is unlikely to waste any more money here in 2012 than did the Obama campaign in 2008, and we don't have nearly as many competitive congressional seats as high-population swing states like Ohio and Florida Hundreds of millions of advertising dollars will be flowing, and Arkansas TV stations (the primary beneficiaries of super PAC money) will barely taste a drop of it.

I depend professionally and personally on the First Amendment, but allowing anonymous money to flow unconstrained through our political system is not going to make our country better. It may, in fact, be the beginning of the end of America as we know it.

But long before Citizens United turns the American electorate into lobotomized serfs, it could have a detrimental effect on the marketing plans of American businesses large and small. Television stations in South Carolina reportedly sold out of advertising inventory during the GOP primary last month. By October, with super PACs spending every dollar their mysterious donors can spare on races from president to dog catcher from sea to shining sea, the principle of supply and demand could push the cost of TV advertising time to Super Bowl levels.

If I were Comcast or Dish Network, I'd roll out an ad campaign for DVR service. Drown me! Roast me! Just don't make me watch any more political ads!

Editor's Note

Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at
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Title Annotation:Editor's Note
Author:Moritz, Gwen
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Feb 13, 2012
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