October 8, 2008 in Opinion

Our View: McCain, Obama mudslinging an insult to voters


Check it out

 Factcheck.org, a nonpartisan watchdog, scrutinizes claims and counterclaims of politicians.

 PolitiFact.com, a project of the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly, separates fact from fiction in campaign ads and in claims made by candidates in debates and on the campaign trail.

 Livingroomcandidate.org has more than 300 presidential election television ads, from 1952 to present-day.

The comedy “Idiocracy” takes place 500 years in the future. The dumbing down of America has produced a generation of men, women and children named after products, including Tylenol Jones. The president is a TV wrestler, and “Hot Naked Chicks & World Report” is a popular newsweekly magazine.

The movie wasn’t a critical or box office hit when it was released two years ago, but it has since gained a cult following. A Slate.com essay applauds it as “a feel-bad comedy about the silent killer of American civilization, namely our collective stupidity.”

The silly season – marked by debates over what it means to put lipstick on a pig – is being replaced by the season of idiocracy, marked by relentless negative ads. On Monday, as the Associated Press reported, “the McCain and Obama presidential campaigns traded accusations of mudslinging in the wake of new ads dredging up infamous events from 20, 30, even 40 years ago.”

Voters should now be making their decisions on who will lead our country, our states and our cities out of uncertainty and into the confidence that’s been shattered in recent weeks by bad economic news.

People say they want answers to specific questions regarding our banks, health care system, education funding and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the television ads for candidates at all levels have devolved into gimmicky images. Opponents are shown in grainy black and white, for instance, so the Tylenol Joneses of our real world can understand that grainy black and white equals bad.

The belief is that negative ads work, though the social science studies on that “fact” are ambiguous. Negative ads fuel fear, mistrust and conspiracy theories. They provide distraction. And if one candidate uses them, conventional political wisdom says the opponent must respond in kind.

Yes, candidates, PACs – and the entire political system – are to blame for the season of idiocracy. But voters collude, too. Four weeks remain until Election Day. Be prepared for a major onslaught of negative ads and the underlying stupidity of citizens the creators of those ads are betting on. The best weapon against idiocracy is research – and the refusal to play this destructive game.

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