By any measure, this has been an unnecessarily long campaign. Nevertheless, for most of us the ideological decision was made before the first debate. Those who vote Republican tend to be conservatives who opt for lower taxes and free markets. Democrats lean more liberal and populist and look to taxation as a government tool to level the playing field for the disadvantaged, as well as for those who don't wish to provide for themselves.
This is the modus operandi of the party faithful with minimal straying from these principles. As for the splinter party candidates, purchase of a lottery ticket gives the voter a better chance to win than choosing a Green, Libertarian, Constitutional or other ballot. Historically, the only effect of these entities has been to throw the election to one party or the other. And, you can bet your bottom dollar that many Perot voters are still kicking themselves for the election of Clinton while Nader's "Raiders" rue the day they elected George Bush by providing the margin of victory in Florida.
For the yet undecided voter, it becomes a test of personal issues — character, integrity, experience, charisma, gravitas, past associations, age, health — all legitimate considerations but with varying degrees of relevance to be decided by the electorate. The one comedy guaranteed to be an issue is who recorded the first and the worst negative campaign ads along with who recorded the greater number of these scurrilous attacks.
This comparison ranks in absurdity right beside that of selecting the office seeker who looks "more Presidential." If appearing presidential was the path to that office, Abraham Lincoln would be an unknown and Spencer Tracy might have been president. Every candidate for public office has used negative campaign ads to attack his opponent or his opponent's record; anyone who believes otherwise is rather naive. And, to dismiss a candidate because a few supporters behave as idiots is equally ludicrous, neither party is wart free.
An oft used but disingenuous example of Republican smear tactics is the resurrection of Willie Horton, the convicted felon serving life for murder who, while on a furlough granted by Massachusetts Gov. Dukakis, committed a rape and robbery. This episode was used by the GOP to portray Dukakis as soft on crime; however, the fact always overlooked is that it was Al Gore who discovered Horton and used him first against Dukakis in the Democratic Primary. Neither party has a monopoly on "dirty pool."
Personal and character issues are indeed relevant in determining for whom to vote. Sen. McCain's age and health are legitimate concerns, particularly when one considers the possible effect of the years of confinement and torture at the hands of his North Vietnamese captors. Likewise, perceived temperament is germane to predict possible reaction to misconception and/or pressure. For example, McCain did not exactly cover himself with glory by prejudging and calling for the firing of Christopher Cox, Securities and Exchange Commission chair.
Sen. Obama's comparative inexperience is also fair game. As a first term U. S. senator with no prior leadership or executive experience, his lack of any concrete record of achievement or responsibility is open to question. Also, his associations with Minister Louis Farrakhan, Reverend Wright and William Ayers should not be off limits.
True, the senator was but 8yearsold when Mr. Ayers was involved in domestic terrorism in 1969, but he was an elected member of the Illinois Senate in 2001 when Ayers eschewed remorse for his earlier actions, stating instead he wished he had done more. Admittedly, there are few who don't claim some nutty acquaintances and associations with shady characters, but 20 years with a hate-mongering preacher and an alliance with an unrepentant bomber, whofollowing 9-11 was photographed standing on the American Flag, is unusual for a Presidential aspirant.
Contrary to the howls of "unfair" and "inflammatory" lodged against the campaigns of both major parties, personal issues and traits relating to courage, character, judgment and integrity must be on the table for the voters to judge a candidate's fitness for office. It is then the responsibility of the electorate to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate and make an informed choice. Hopefully those who ignore all of the above, voting instead on for self interest or out of misplaced angst, will be a minority.
On character, there is Sen. McCain's refusal to accept freedom offered by his North Vietnamese captors, insisting to remain until all prisoners were repatriated, compared with Sen. Obama's reneging on his promise to accept public financing of his campaign. Advantage: McCain.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.