Campaigns ought to be about competing visions of the future, not a race to the bottom of the mud pit.
Disgracefully inaccurate as it often is, negative radio and television advertising works in political campaigns.
That it does is a horrific indictment of voters who, apparently unwilling to actually examine the candidates and the issues, cast their votes based on their emotional response to advertising that paints one candidate or another as the kind of villain who probably ought to be locked up, certainly not elected to public office.
But while it's the voters who invite negative advertising, it's the candidates who practice it, and they ought to be held accountable for the misstatements and misimpressions spread in their names.
That's why Dr. David Gill, a Democrat, and Rodney Davis, a Republican, ought to not just hang their heads in shame but disavow the advertising being run by their supporters. If they don't disavow it, they must be held complicit in it.
Each is equally to blame for advertising attacking the other.
The Gill campaign is benefiting from negative ads run by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that try to link Davis to the corrupt tenure of now-imprisoned Illinois Gov. George Ryan.
Davis was a low-level employee in the Ryan secretary of state office in the '90s, but had nothing to do with Ryan's criminality while Ryan held the secretary of state's and governor's offices.
There may be some technical accuracies in the pro-Gill ads, but the impression they leave is intentionally false.
The Davis campaign has struck back, benefiting from ads sponsored by the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee that accuse Gill, of all things, of wanting to end the Medicare program.
Actually, nothing could be further from the truth, and anyone who has followed the Gill campaign knows it. The Davis campaign, however, is aiming the ads at people who know nothing about the Democratic candidate.
Gill wants to put everyone on Medicare, not just senior citizens. In Gill's mind, Obamacare, President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, doesn't go far enough in terms of putting people under the government's medical safety net. To accuse Gill of wanting to end Medicare is flatly inaccurate.
How did our politics ever sink so low?
It's born of a desire to win at any cost. Candidates rationalize their conduct by concluding that they can't do any of the good things they want unless they win, so they must win.
That's where big money and TV/radio advertising come in. Candidates and their handlers don't talk nearly so much about issues voters care about as plot and scheme about how best to drive up their opponent's "negatives."
In other words, get more people to dislike a candidate than like him, and victory is within reach.
That's where hot-button issues come in. Get people to believe that Davis was a co-conspirator in the Ryan crime spree, and they'll despise him. Scare seniors into believing Gill wants to end Medicare, and they'll be too scared to back him.
Negative advertising now is pervasive.
Republican and Democratic state political operatives use it in local Senate and House races, skirting facts and emphasizing emotion to drive public opinion. It's even worse in races both for Congress and the presidency.
Democrats actually ran an ad that portrayed U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential candidate, pushing a helpless grandmother off a cliff. That is the same Ryan who, as a teenager, was one of the primary caregivers, along with his mother, for his own grandmother as she wasted away with Alzheimer's disease.
This ought to be beneath us. But it will never be until candidates are cornered and questioned about their dishonest advertising. Davis ought to be required to defend or disavow his Gill ad (and it is his ad) on Medicare. The same applies for Gill on the Davis ad.
Candidates may think they can take their win and walk away from his kind of conduct after the campaign is over. But it debases our politics and reveals too many of our candidates as not just untrustworthy, but unworthy of respect.
It breeds the kind of disdain that keeps voters away from the polls, and it won't end until voters stop making it pay for the practitioners of this dark political art.