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Has Burt Aaronson lost his mind?

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Just about everyone who’s had family members live to a ripe-old age has experienced the Burt Aaronson problem. A grandfather who forgets your name at Christmas, the nasty aunt who ruins Thanksgiving with cruel and outrageous remarks, the uncle who thinks Eisenhower is still president.

Recently, Aaronson had one of those embarrassing moments that make us all want to hang our heads in shame. Speaking at a Democratic Party fundraising dinner, the octogenarian Palm Beach County commissioner was caught on audiotape saying this:

“You know, if a ballplayer threw a game and they get caught, they go to jail. Well, what are we going to do to the Republicans who are throwing the country?

“They’re throwing our country, and they all should be put in jail for what they’re doing, because they’re destroying our country, because they said at the beginning our one mission is to get rid of President Obama. That was their mission. They don’t care how much they destroy other people. They don’t care whether you go to work. They don’t care about anything.

“All they want to do is destroy the president. And in destroying the president of the United States, you destroy our country. They should be put in jail, each and every one of them, for throwing the country.”

The full recording of the quote can be found in George Bennett’s Palm Beach Post column, “Aaronson: Republicans ‘all should be put in jail’ for trying to ‘destroy’ country, Obama

Aaronson is still the most powerful elected Democrat in Palm Beach County, and even the usually level-headed chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party, Mark Alan Siegel, refused to criticize Aaronson for his remarks, telling me:

“It was a flight of rhetorical fancy, which Burt is known for. No one should go to jail for their political opinions, but in a wildly rhetorical environment, anyone who wants to see the president fail and the country suffer is not a good American.

Burt was making a rhetorical point at a partisan political gathering. Whether anyone should go to jail or it’s actually treason are technical legal questions.”

The problem for Aaronson is that his remarks were so over the top that many politicos, including me, think he’s lost it.

Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Republican Party of Palm Beach County, told me: “Burt is on his way out. No one cares what he says anymore, and he can’t deal with it. Even if he was really going to do it, Burt couldn’t beat Anne Gannon for tax collector. It’s over for Burt.”

My opinion about Aaronson’s remarks might surprise a lot of people. I’ve been battling Aaronson for a long time. He’s a tough old bird, and over the last 10 years, I’ve hit Aaronson with a lot of shots that would have dropped most other politicians, but he’s still standing. One can’t help but develop a grudging respect for an opponent who can take so many shots and still keep swinging.

I made sport of Aaronson’s intention to run for another term if term limits were struck down, and his refusal to retire with dignity back in June with, “How old is Burt Aaronson, really?”

Aaronson’s ugly remarks damaged his party and helped to energize local Republicans.

I can’t imagine Aaronson in his prime saying anything as stupid as what he said the other day. I’m not mad. I feel sorry for Aaronson.

Are the perks and power of a local county commissioner so great that Aaronson fears life without them? At 83 years of age, is his life really so empty that local politics is all he has?

I don’t know, but there’s a reason, beyond political power and liberal media bias, why Aaronson’s remarks weren’t front-page news all over the state.

You don’t argue with the crazy uncle who thinks Eisenhower is still president, or take offense when your grandfather forgets your name, just as you don’t strike back at a nasty aunt’s cruel remarks.

You don’t do any of those things because you realize the old goat has lost it. What’s said can’t be taken seriously anymore.

But that doesn’t mean the nuttiness doesn’t have impact. Not in politics.

Heading into a presidential election year, both parties will be battling for independent voters and trying to energize their own bases.

Aaronson’s remarks before a hard-core group of already-committed Democrats may have gotten him a few atta-boys from some amateurs in the crowd, but professionals know Aaronson hurt the Democratic Party.

What Aaronson did was turn off some independent voters and help energize local Republicans. Gifts from political opponents aren’t common, and they don’t come much better than the one Aaronson’s “throw them all in jail” comments gave local Republicans.

Politics is a game of chess, not checkers. It’s a game Aaronson used to play well, but that was before he began to believe Eisenhower was still president.

Jack Furnari

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