We are now in the last lap of the slimefest our elections have become, and as the stench becomes more nauseating, so does the squealing about how nasty it has all gotten. But if we really find mud-slinging so odious, why is it so effective? Our phony revulsion shows not how enlightened and "fair" we are, but how hypocritical. Except for you, of course. And me.
Accepting that other Coloradans secretly crave watching politicians they oppose being dragged through the mud, we have no choice but to endure the next five weeks of execrable ads, innuendo, outright lies and defamations. And since these things tend to pounce without warning out of the usual offerings of cars, food, clothes, financial services and barratry, there's no escape. But some use might be salvaged from the moral wreckage of mediated slander: if we apply some guidelines, mud-slinging might provide helpful hints about who should get the nod come Nov. 6.
One should note that the following applies not only to the ads endorsed by the candidates, but to the "informational" ads spewed by partisans of all stripes. "Candidate X will sneak into your house while you are sleeping and murder you in your beds" is not really information. So.
1. If anyone features the word "extreme" in an ad, vote for the person being attacked. The term is a bogeyman, and since it depends on definition it is useless as a guide. To a leftist like Barney Frank, Bill Clinton's an "extremist."
If more than one candidate uses the term, count the number of times the word is used, and vote for the person who uses it less. If the count is even, a pox on both their houses.
2. If anyone is accused of tying Granny to a wheelchair and pushing her over a cliff, vote for that candidate right away. His or her opponent is using irrational fear to motivate: an illegitimate tactic of argument, which must be torn out root and branch.
This tactic often takes the form of a statement like "Candidate Y will end Medicare as we know it." Which indicates that the sponsor is either too stupid to draw breath, or thinks the audience is - probably the latter. No matter which candidate wins, Medicare, and probably the rest of Social Security, will have to change to avoid a complete financial collapse. Both Barack Obama and Paul Ryan agree on this. But only one of them has budgeted a transfer of money out of the system, and it ain't Paul Ryan.
3. If a candidate is accused of "trying to end abortion" or "ending a woman's access to birth control," vote for that person. This is another example of using irrational fear and calculating that the audience is too dull to understand they are being manipulated. "Roe v. Wade" is the law of the land, so unless and until the Supreme Court reverses itself, abortion will be legal regardless of anyone's attitude about its moral freight. And there is a significant difference between "ending a woman's access to birth control" and ending the requirement that others - some of whom may have profound religious objections - buy it for her.
An aside, which may cast light into this murk: if abortion is such a public good, why are there no advertisements for it? In an age when even personal injury and liability lawyers fill the airwaves with solicitations for business from those with potential or even imagined grievances, why are there no "our abortionists are standing by" spots? Might it be that, legal though it may be, most of us realize that this is an issue fraught with moral questions? And if that is the case, what does it say when a candidate tries to make abortion the lynchpin of the campaign?
4. If a candidate is accused of something that looks illegal, be deeply suspicious of the claim and skeptical about the accusing politician. Look carefully at timing and remember: there is a difference between breaking the law and acting unethically. Most "Washington Insiders" know the difference and prefer the latter to the former.
5. If a candidate is accused of "destroying American jobs" or something equally odious, like owning a skunk, check the opponent's record. Remember, misdirection and projection are traditional tools of both the magician and the failed politician.
More generally, useful sources for statistical information in this mad season include the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau. The first is: http://www.bls.gov; employment stats are at http://www.bls.gov/ces. The second is: http://www.census.gov. Check the raw data, not the bulletins; there's less manipulation that way.
So have strength friends, and remember: if it's too much, just turn it off. Really.
Summit County resident Morgan Liddick pens a Tuesday column. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.