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FIRST-PERSON: On Election Day, rise above the clatter

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–Political historians tell us that presidential campaigns in America have always possessed a negative side. However, these same observers of elections agree that this year’s contest for the White House seems to be of a geometric configuration that has multiple sides, not just one, that are downright ugly.

The case could be made that the present presidential campaign gives character assassination a good name. Distorted documentaries, dubious documents and questionable –- not to mention unnamed — sources all seek to impugn the character of each candidate.

If you live in one of the so-called battleground states, which I do, the mud never seems to stop slinging. And campaign consultants all agree as to the reason for the current crass campaigning -– negative politicking works.

Understanding the reason the electorate relishes sleaze is no easy chore. However, it seems to fit a trend that is reflected in broader society. In the past decade, American popular culture has begun to resemble a dog drinking from a toilet.

What was once considered rude, crude and socially unacceptable is now in vogue.

I call it the “Jerry Springerizing” of our culture. Behavior that once produced shocked gasps now passes as entertainment.

No aspect of our culture seems unstained from the incivility that now saturates society.

Everyday discourse is peppered with invective and expletives that once would have caused folks to blush. Even our elected officials –- representatives of the people –- now feel free to use foul language to help punctuate their points.

Manners are relics of the past, something to be read about in a history book. Angry shouting matches have taken the place of reasoned debate. Much of popular music contains lyrics that are coarse and degrading. Television is rife with programs that feature people in demeaning situations.

Add to our current state of cultural incivility a pervasive pragmatism that proclaims any “means” that achieves a desired “end” valid, and you have a recipe for an election that features more disparaging of an opponent than it does declaration of a candidate’s positions.

A candidate’s integrity is certainly fair game. If he or she can be found to have knowingly lied in the past, it certainly calls into question future honesty. However, outlandish accusations, anonymous sources and partisan potshots should be taken with a grain of salt -– perhaps even with an entire salt shaker.

We are all tempted to be swayed by gossip, and the juicier the information the more apt we are to be interested. However, when it comes to electing a person to the highest office in our land, facts and not hearsay should guide our thinking.

It has never been easier to learn about a candidate’s position on most any issue. The Internet has literally placed a wealth of information at our fingertips. One helpful resource is Project Vote Smart (www.vote-smart.org.). PVS is a nonpartisan effort to give voters “just the facts” about candidates, state and federal.

If you rely solely on the media campaigns of candidates to determine whom you will vote for, you will likely find yourself twisting in the wind. Don’t let the current crass state of popular culture fog your judgment. Rise above the mudslinging and cast an informed vote.

The author of the Declaration of Independence and our nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, said, “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”

James Madison, the author of the Constitution and fourth president of the United States, commented, “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy … a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

It could be argued that the current state of campaigning in America is both farce and tragedy; however, it is nothing more than a reflection of the state of our culture. It is time to transcend the incivility that shrouds society. Don’t just vote based on who is less ugly. Get the facts on the candidates and vote smart.
Kelly Boggs’ column appears each Friday in Baptist Press. He is pastor of the Portland-area Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore.

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  • Kelly Boggs