Staff Editorial: Mudslinging politicians should clean up act

As the presidential election approaches, political strategies are increasingly visible. With visibility comes scrutiny, however, and it has become plain that modern campaign tactics are dirtier than ever before.

Personal attacks on candidates have distracted voters from the central issues facing our country, morphing the presidential campaign into a wild and disheartening contest between the "lesser of two evils."

One striking example of the potency of smear tactics was seen in the 2000 Republican primary in South Carolina. At the time, George W. Bush and John McCain were battling for the party's nomination for president - we needn't tell you who won. After McCain scored a decisive win in New Hampshire, Bush's campaign, reeking of desperation, took a dark turn.

"Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?" posed a push poll funded by opponents of McCain. The resulting controversy caused confusion, and helped lead to a Bush victory in South Carolina.

Similar tactics are making their way into this year's presidential campaign, and the resulting unfounded rumors have taken a toll on both candidates. For example, an anonymous chain e-mail circulated during the Democratic primaries stating that Barack Obama is a Muslim, preying on a post-9/11 fear of the Islamic faith. Almost weekly, random television interviews turn up misinformed voters explaining why they don't feel comfortable electing a "socialist" or "terrorist" into the White House.

McCain hasn't fared much better. Baseless arguments have been raised regarding his health, as well as the competence of his running mate, Sarah Palin.

Unfortunately, there is no end in sight when it comes to such tactics. Campaigns have taken advantage of a major election-time flaw in the two party system: Namely, it's just as easy to convince the public not to vote for one's opponent, leaving voters stuck between a rock and a hard place come election day.

We'd like to think that America's leaders don't advance to such prestigious positions while secretly harboring anti-American attitudes. Let's fight these smear tactics. This Nov. 4, it's up to us as Americans to focus on the issues, not the rumors.