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Editor's Note: Election rhetoric can be downright ugly

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012 3:08 p.m. CDT

"These people would not say they’re lying, but we all know they’re stretching the truth, taking things out of context ... The more extreme, the better.”
– Robert Loevy

According to the experts, the volume and audacity of distortion, misrepresentation and outright lying in the 2012 presidential campaign is unprecedented. A spate of aggressive third-party ads, a highly polarized electorate and the ability of the Internet and social media to spread misinformation at the speed of light make for a potent combination.

I have caught friends at both ends of the political spectrum repeating – or, more often, reposting on social media – candidate attacks I know have been shown to be false. Other friends have given up their Facebook accounts altogether until after the election in November. A couple aren’t sure if they’ll ever come back.

One woman I know posted a thoughtful Facebook update with a fact-based explanation of why she opposed one candidate’s tax proposal. A relative on the opposite end of the political spectrum quickly commented, “Better than (the other guy’s) plan.”

I don’t think she knew what the other guy’s plan was. She had an immediate reaction that if he suggested it, she opposed it.

That is frustrating. Back your candidate, by all means, but know what you’re backing.

I believe the vast majority of people in this country are closer to the middle of the political spectrum than to either end. But people at the extreme ends tend to be louder and they turn out at the polls.

Since the people who vote determine not only who wins this election but who gets nominated in the next one, we end up with candidates who cater to the extreme ends.

Which further frustrates centrist voters, who give up and stop voting.

Which gives more weight to the votes of extremists.

And so on. And so on.

“Compromise” is now an insult in campaign rhetoric. The popular stance, regardless of the issue, seems to be, “This is what we want and I will not budge. My opponent would compromise.”

The trouble is, if both sides are doing that, nothing gets done and we end up with a stalemate instead of action that, while it isn’t 100 percent what either side wanted, could be helping at least some of the people.

“The freedom we have to choose is an incredible gift,” TAILS Executive Director Beth Drake told me this week when we were talking about elections.

Please don’t send back that gift. Please care. Vote. And please, please educate yourself. Don’t be a tool of some win-at-any-cost group that doesn’t care about the truth as long as their guy wins.

FactCheck.org, run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and PolitiFact.com, run by the Tampa Bay Times, are two resources you can use to check political statements and rumors.

Six more weeks until, hopefully, the return of civil conversation.

But I’m not holding my breath.

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