The Washington Post

On Fat Tuesday, what the candidates should give up for Lent

Giving up, for Lent. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Then Lent will be upon us.

Ah, Lent. The season of mortification. The season of self-denial and abasement and ashes upon foreheads, when people undertake spiritual disciplines in preparation for the exuberance of Easter, or, in my case, try unsuccessfully to give up bacon.

What does this mean for the presidential candidates? Not much, one might venture. The season of mortification has been upon them since they formed exploratory committees. How are these forty days going to be any different?

Given the loud ballyhooing of everyone’s spiritual sides this time around — walk into the middle of a debate at the wrong moment, and you’d be excused for thinking it was a particularly staid, tentless revival meeting — maybe the candidates can turn Lent to their advantage.

But what to give up?

Here are a few helpful Lenten suggestions: 

Rick Santorum should give up: talking.  

He’s surging in the polls. He’s very nearly the front-runner.

But then they started to pay attention to what he was saying.

In the course of the past few days, he's managed to come within inches of comparing President Obama to Hitler, suggest an end to federal and state involvement in the school system, criticize prenatal testing and the presence of women on the front lines of combat, impugn the president for “phony theology,” and generally endear himself to everyone.

Also he seems to think Satan is coming? Or something?

My point is, he is not making this easier for himself.

Look, the task for Rick Santorum in the race right now is simple. He just has to stand there and not be Mitt Romney. I could do that. I've done it all my life. I can attest that it requires a minimum of skill.

Instead, he’s insistent on repeating the same strategy of Sticking To His Principled Guns that worked so well for him in Pennsylvania, except for that one time, in 2006, when it didn’t.

Mitt Romney should give up: spending money.

I realize that Mormons don't observe Lent — they can, for fun. Anyone who wants to can observe Lent for fun! True, observing Lent for fun is like having a colonoscopy for fun, but less so. If your idea of fun is observing Lent, you’re probably Rick Santorum. But to each his own.

If Romney wants to partake, this is as good a place to start as any. At the rate he's spending money, he’ll burn through even his ample coffers by, well — possibly not before November, actually. Gee, that's a lot of money.

But what’s the point?

It seems like an awful lot of money to spend for not much. Voters already have a surplus of negative thoughts about all the candidates running. This is just creating a glut. At the rate things are going, we will soon sicken of negative advertising and demand the candidates run positive ads about each other. (“He has nice hair and seems well-intentioned.”) If Romney’s campaign funds were a country, its only export would be negative thoughts about Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, and a creeping forgetfulness that there was ever such a man as Newt Gingrich. Are any of these things really necessary?

For Lent, instead of giving things up. you can also resolve to take something on.

Ron Paul should resolve to say only nice things about the Federal Reserve, just to challenge himself. Alternatively, he could urge his supporters to give up commenting online. But without Ron Paul supporters, the Internet would probably grow lonely and depressed, and the Paul fans would have to channel this energy into other things, like actually showing up in person and voting for Ron Paul. And that might upset the fragile balance of nature and release the Kraken. At least this is what the establishment implies.

For Lent, President Obama should give up: creating jobs, just to make things fair for everyone. Then again, he doesn’t seem to be doing this on purpose, so maybe he should give up something else, like singing Al Green to donors or reminding us about that time he got Osama bin Laden. That would be a real challenge.

I have the sense that I’m forgetting someone, but fortunately Sheldon Adelson is there to remind me.

For Lent, Newt Gingrich should give up.

But that’s the trouble with Lent. It so seldom goes as planned.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".


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