Perhaps the one silver lining of the superstorm that devastated the East Coast last week was the temporary reprieve it granted from negativity of this year's presidential campaign. The pause from wall-to-wall campaign coverage made for a stark contrast to what has become one of the uglier campaigns in American history.
As of Oct. 28, 1,086,162 ads had aired so far in the presidential race, according to CMAG. An overwhelming 87 percent of these ads were negative, compared with 13 percent that were positive. Most of the Democratic ads were controlled by the Obama campaign, and 84 percent were negative. Most of the Republican ads were controlled by super-PACs and other outside groups, and 91 percent were negative.
Regardless of who wins tomorrow's election, the drowning out of civil debate is a loss for all Americans.
Negative ads work, at least some of the time, which is why campaigns continue to run them — even candidates who express distaste for them, as many congressional candidates have in this election cycle. But negative campaigning is an arms race in which candidate feel they cannot afford not to participate. "It's a Catch-22. If one side spends it, the other side can't not spend it," political scientist John G. Geer told Newsmax.
It isn't just the negative tone that makes these ads — and claims by the candidates themselves — problematic, but the way their twisting of the truth exacerbates an already polarized and uncivil conversation.
Thankfully, both campaigns have avoided dragging religion or race into the debate, though some whisper campaigns have tried to exploit them all the same. Apparently there are some lines even political operatives know better than to cross. But it would be nice if the threshold were even higher so as to preclude other forms of character assassination and falsehood.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, bruised from the nastiness of their own re-election battles, are talking about campaign finance reform. It's unclear whether such reform could make a difference in the amount and tone of negative campaigning, but it is clear that Americans want something different.
The collective sigh of relief from voters when both candidates shifted to positive posturing in the eye of Hurricane Sandy is instructive. It is possible for candidates to call for unity rather than division and to run on their own compassion, strength and vision.
The winner of tomorrow's election would do well to take note and take advantage of a new start to lift the discussion and lead Americans with the honesty they deserve.
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