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As of this writing, the nation hasn't decided if it will take back government or take it forward. Two years of campaign rhetoric and the

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Election 2010: Hold Your Nose and Vote, Maybe, But Try Not to Close Your Eyes

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As of this writing, the nation hasn't decided if it will take back government or take it forward. Two years of campaign rhetoric and the talk of witches will end, with hardly a word about a 9-year war. Winners will be chosen largely by how much they've spent on misleading television ads. Unless you're an ensconced incumbent with token opposition, money--much of it from undisclosed donors--will be the difference between taking a seat in D.C. and Olympia or on the couch at home. Politics increasingly is a fixed horse race on a muddy track--with few exceptions.

While unknown GOP challenger James Watkins was calling 1st District Democratic Congressman Jay Inselee a liar, for example, Independent Bob Jeffers-Schroder was telling us he rather liked some things about 7th District Democrat Jim McDermott. "I agree with Congressman McDermott that the [health-care] plan that passed fell short, but was at least a start. I agree with his views regarding needed improvement and think he will do a good job."

He had no hope of beating Seattle's congressman-for-life, and while he challenged McDermott on other issues, Jeffers-Schroder could have slung the dirt without consequence, picking up votes, even. He held out his hand instead. Hear, hear! Unfortunately, while remarkably civil, his candidacy fell short of giving McDermott a good run for the incumbent's considerable money.

So where's the balancer? You. Candidates toss mud, but voters disapprove only if it's the other guy flinging it. It's great sport, of course, but merely a distraction. The Greater Seattle League of Women voters has a primer on how to pick a candidate. For starters, don't pay attention to the things that get our attention, the league says.

"Don't listen to attacks on a candidate's family, ethnicity, gender, race or personal characteristics that don't have anything to do with how the candidate will do the job ... Watch for tricky statements such as, 'Although everyone says my opponent is a crook, I have no personal knowledge of any wrongdoing.'"

An oldie but a goodie. Adds the League:

Your first step in picking a candidate is to decide what you care about and what character you want in a leader. Create a list of your priority issues and the qualities you think are most important in an elected official. Rate the candidates on how closely their views match yours and on their leadership abilities.

Alas, the right to vote doesn't come with the knowledge to cast it. A few days ago, an editorial writer at the Yakima Herald-Republic recounted a litany of negative campaign incidents. Among them was a full-page ad slamming 14th District State Rep. Norm Johnson for supporting the state's domestic-partners law. It compared him to the legendary King Canute, who reputedly tried to alter nature by attempting to control the tides. Critics felt the ad sanctioned discrimination against gays.

Enough, the paper said, of politics as a blood sport. More awareness and responsibility is in order, it added, from the third parties, the politicos and the body politic. The paper urged:

Candidates [to] assertively disown negative third-party ads. Not simply mutter a passive "It's not my campaign doing this so I'm not responsible," but publicly demand the third parties to put a stop to it. Would a sharp, direct demand from a candidate to a friendly party put an end to it? We don't know; we've yet to see anyone try it.

Voters ... to skeptically view the claims, parse out what is a real issue and what is a red herring. One would think that everyone is numb to it all by now, but if the negative ads didn't work, they wouldn't be aired or published.

You, armed with a ballot, are the first and last line of defense against the governments we elect. Try to be as informed and fair as the candidate you'd like to see in office. As Winston Churchill once noted, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

 
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