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November 5, 2008

Morality playoff

The scariest thing about Halloween this year wasn’t the costumes or the fact that the price of chocolate went up 14 percent. The scariest thing about Halloween was the grotesquely bitter politicking being waged over the airwaves and the Internet.

By the time you read this, the United States of America should have a new president. Unless legal wrangling takes us through a repeat of Election 2000, our nation has turned a page in the annals of history much as you are turning the pages of this paper.

Only time will tell if our new leader will live up to his office. I’m just wondering if enough time exists for our populace to heal from all the campaigning.

In the presidential race, venom-filled e-mails circulated about religion, citizenship and questionable associations. As fast as one was debunked, a new one appeared, some even maliciously going after the non-partisan groups doing the debunking. Once and for all: No, FactCheck.org was not and is not affiliated with Sen. Barack Obama.

But that’s just the national stage. While spending a combined total of nearly $80 million, did Sen. Mitch McConnell and Bruce Lunsford run any positive radio or television commercials touting reputations or real accomplishments? All I remember is barking bloodhounds and vulgar in-our-face claims about mega-money, as if earmarking taxpayer funds was the only true measure of a politician’s qualifications.

Yarmuth-Northup Part Deux was boring in comparison, featuring rehashes of “You killed the bridge/I did not!” and “You hate Christmas/Are you crazy, woman?”

Metro Council races proffered new elements of sleaze. A photo of one challenger copping a feel off a bare-chested stripper made the rounds, only to be outdone by a Photoshopped mailer intimating that the election of another particular candidate would with all certainty turn Louisville into a flaming gay bastion of sexual immorality. He’s queer! He’s here! Lock up your children and vote for your incumbent!

But perhaps the nastiest of campaigns was one that should have been run with the utmost respectability. According to several members of Louisville’s legal community, there has always been an unwritten rule that judicial races would be conducted free of negative campaigning. No attacks, no personal smears, no insinuations, e-mailed, whispered or broadcast. It was a standard that had always been adhered to — until this year, when a barely qualified, spoiled socialite with a questionable reputation (Katie King) came out with both barrels of daddy’s (Metro Council President Jim King) money blazing and viciously attacked her opponent, a veteran prosecutor and an interim judge (David Holton) who also happens, by the way, to be blind.

That display, and what went on behind the scenes of the campaign, was unconscionable, unbefitting anyone who aspires to sit on a judicial bench. The office of judge requires impeccable integrity, the utmost restraint and virtually irreproachable personal and professional conduct. This campaign made a mockery of the position supposedly desired.

No wonder hardly anyone trusts politicians. No wonder the public lumps them into one big, ugly, sinking category.

Campaigns used to be waged based on accomplishments and worthiness. Today it’s all about mudslinging and money. Shockingly, candidates campaign to retain their seats after being indicted — heck, even after being found guilty — of felonies.

In a democracy where ethics and character should be paramount to attaining a leadership position, today’s challengers and incumbents all too often leave voters so little to be proud of.

Except in Vermont. Just when almost all hope seems lost, out of Election ’08 comes the little-told story of the race for Vermont state auditor. 

It was a race where one candidate couldn’t even campaign. The Pentagon prohibits campaigning while on active duty and Thomas Salmon is in Iraq, deployed with the U.S. Naval Reserve. One would think an absentee challenger would be easy to eclipse. Not in Vermont. Not when Salmon’s challengers demonstrated a seldom-seen moral rectitude.

One declared opponent opted out of formally filing, saying that competing against Salmon wasn’t fair — to Salmon. The two who did oppose Salmon independently decided not to fundraise or send out mailings. One said his name was on the ballot only to give voters a choice. The other said if Salmon couldn’t campaign, she wouldn’t either.

It’s a real pity that kind of moral consciousness wasn’t more widespread. 

Tagged: Francene |