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When maturity is abandoned

<p>Earlier this week, President Obama's senior campaign strategist David Axelrod took a firm stand against heckling.</p>
The Romney campaign's heckling squad.
The Romney campaign's heckling squad.

Earlier this week, President Obama's senior campaign strategist David Axelrod took a firm stand against heckling. "I strongly condemn heckling along Mitt's route," he said of the hecklers targeting Mitt Romney in Ohio. Axelrod added, "Let voters hear BOTH candidates & decide."

Obama spokesperson Ben LaBolt added, "We have sent a strong message to our supporters that this campaign should be an open exchange of ideas, not one where we drown out the other side by heckling and crashing events."

Any chance the Republican will also aim for the high road? Apparently not.

Mitt Romney has declined to call on his supporters to stop heckling President Barack Obama's campaign. [...]Romney was asked if he would also condemn heckling during Obama events. He declined.... Romney says American politics has a "long history of heckling and free speech."

Romney specifically told Fox News Radio yesterday he doesn't believe in "unilateral disarmament" when it comes to his supporters disrupting Democratic campaign events.

Keep in mind, we're talking about a fairly specific, deliberate plan from Romney Campaign HQ. They sent hecklers to disrupt an Obama campaign event in May, and last week, Team Romney sent its bus to circle an Obama event in Cleveland, honking its horn repeatedly, for no other reason than to be obnoxious. It's presidential politics at a junior-high-school level.

Most striking of all, instead of distancing himself from ugly tactics, Romney claims credit for this nonsense. As we talked about a few weeks ago, it'd be easy for the Republican to say, "If people are going to try to disrupt public events, that's up to them. I'm running for president of the United States, and I don't have time to concern myself with who is or isn't heckling."

But that's not what Romney is saying at all.

On the contrary, he seems almost proud of the disruptions. Remember this from three weeks ago?

Romney's comments yesterday were similar: instead of distancing himself from the heckling, he took ownership of it -- effectively admitting that his campaign is directly responsible -- and defended the childish tactics.

I realize that efforts to disrupt opponents' campaigns aren't new -- they're about as old as elections themselves -- and that Democrats and their allies are hardly angels. No one side or ideology has a monopoly on virtue or vice.

But that's not really what I'm getting at here. Rather, the point is Romney is the first major-party nominee I can think who's claimed credit for obnoxious hecklers on purpose.

The 2012 campaign has already descended to a rather cheap level; with several months to go, it's a shame Romney intends to make things worse.