Stoking fear

When John McCain and Barack Obama set off to run for president, they promised this would not be politics as usual. And given their political track records, there was reason to believe that. They have been unconventional politicians.

This campaign, though, looks very conventional at the moment. It’s getting negative. No, scratch that. It’s getting downright nasty.

McCain warns of Obama’s “blind ambition” and says Obama is “too risky for America.” Sarah Palin says Obama “pals around with terrorists.”

Obama says that McCain is “erratic in a crisis” and “a risk we just can’t afford to take.”

The Chicago Tribune had an interesting story on Friday that sought to quantify the negative campaigning. A score card, if you will. And McCain’s is leading the game. A review by University of Wisconsin television ad-watchers found that “nearly 100 percent of the McCain campaign’s advertisements were negative” during the week of Sept. 28 to Oct. 4. That compared with 34 percent of Obama’s ads.

Widen the lens and you find that since the start of the general election campaign, 73 percent of McCain’s ads and 61 percent of Obama’s have been negative, the same researchers found.

Some of this is to be expected. Political pros will tell you that negative campaigning is employed for one reason: it works. And it may work especially well this year, when a lot of voters are angry and distrustful of politicians. As one Pennsylvania voter said recently: “It’s all about the money for me now, and I can’t stop thinking about that.”

So it’s no surprise these candidates take turns warning that electing the opponent would be a great risk.

As Chris Lehane, a Democratic consultant, told a reporter: “At the end of the day, campaigns are campaigns. In the last five days, it always comes down to a knife fight in a telephone booth.”

But some McCain-Palin campaign events have turned truly ugly.

There’s enough fear in the nation. It doesn’t need a presidential campaign that stokes more.

There are just three weeks to go before the election. This nation is mired in an international economic crisis. Americans are about to decide who will lead them through that crisis. Who will inspire us? Who has the best ideas?

These are decent and honorable men. They need to appeal to the best instincts of America, not the worst.