Kansas City Star political writer Steve Kraske pursues an interesting hobby each election year. He collects political mailers those outsized campaign postcards stuffing your mailbox so he can get a taste of what candidates are saying.
Its hard to look at the mailers without falling into despair. It would take a dozen reporters a dozen years to scrutinize even a portion of the false claims in the pieces. Better to toss them in the trash.
Political TV commercials used to be different, you know. Sure, they contained misleading claims and distortions, but they were much more focused than mailers, allowing a crisper examination of how accurate they are.
Sadly, thats changed. At one time politicians actually worried about untrue TV commercials, quickly yanking them if they violated standards of fairness and accuracy. No more. In the rubble of a media multiverse, fact-checkers are now a mere speed bump for candidates.
The Barack Obama super PAC ad last week, implying Mitt Romney didnt care if the wife of a local steelworker died without health coverage, is the latest example. The barely-seen ad was riddled with distortions (although it wasnt the worst ad ever, as some claimed remember, Lyndon Johnson implied Barry Goldwater would start a nuclear war.)
Still, the ad played on, getting far more attention than it would have if we had simply thrown it in the trash where it belonged.
Romneys choice of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan for the GOP ticket is widely seen as evidence the presidential campaign is moving beyond such superficial garbage into something meaningful. I hope so, but I have my doubts.
It could be meaningful if both campaigns pledge not only to discuss real issues but also to discuss them fully. On Saturday Ryan pledged to preserve and protect Medicare, then accused Democrats of cutting $700 billion in Medicare growth to pay for part of the Affordable Care Act.
But Ryans own budget assumes the same $700 billion cut in Medicare growth. The difference is how the spending is cut: The White House wants government bureaucrats to squeeze health care costs; Republicans want insurance bureaucrats to do it.
Thats the argument we should have.
Last week, Sen. Claire McCaskill put up a website with strongly conservative votes and statements from opponent U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, perhaps expecting outrage from the Akin camp. Nope, a spokesman said, those votes are pretty much what Akin believes.
It was a stunning moment, distilling Missouris Senate race into real, distinct choices. Lets hope Akin and McCaskill skip the postcards this fall.
But look for Romney and Obama missives in your mailbox sometime soon.