Op-Eds

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Approve This Message: Let’s Have a Real Election

Is it possible to have an election in which the focus is on the issues? If it’s ever going to happen, this is the year.

As soon as a Democratic candidate for president is determined, John McCain will challenge him or her to finance the general campaign using the federal financing system. Of course, this is a self-serving challenge: McCain cannot hope to raise anywhere near the cash the Democratic candidate will raise. Assuming that candidate is Obama, he has already raised more than McCain will. This is the only way McCain can even out his funding disparity.

Obama should accept the challenge.

Why would Obama throw away such a huge advantage? Well for one thing, he said he would. Of course at the time he did not realize what a huge advantage he would have, but that is no reason to change his mind. The Federal Election Commission will provide each candidate with $84 million for the general campaign. There’s no reason campaigns should cost more than that.

Of course, Obama fears being Swift-boated. Groups not associated with McCain's campaign could mount ads directed against Obama, which McCain could disown, just as Bush did with the ads against Kerry. The ads stay out there, the candidate gets deniability, the damage is done. This time the Democrats will not let that happen—that what their giant war chest is for. Of course, liberal organizations could do the same to McCain, and he has fewer resources to fight back.

But imagine a campaign without distracting and irrelevant attacks from outside groups. I think it might happen this year, because both candidates want to change the way American politics is conducted.

Is it possible to have an election in which the focus is on the issues? If it’s ever going to happen, this is the year.

So when the first ad comes out from an outside group complaining that Obama does not wear a flag lapel pin, or that his pastor has said some unsavory things about America, here are the ads I want to see.

From McCain:

There is an ad out there suggesting that you should not vote for Barack Obama because his friend and pastor has some unusual opinions. I hate this ad and I beg the sponsors to stop running it, I beg the news media to reject it, and I beg you to ignore it. I want you to know that I have many friends with opinions I don't share, and most of you do too. This election is not about the opinions of my friends or Barack's friends, it is about his opinions and mine. There are many ways in which we disagree about how this country should be run, and the election should be about whether you agree with him or with me. It is true that he is a lousy bowler, but you are not electing a president on bowling talent. So let me state for the record: Barack is an honest, patriotic, dedicated public servant. Patriotism is a state of mind, not a lapel pin. He is not a Muslim and I would not care if he were. He is ready to be President, he is ready to take that 3 a.m. phone call. He is not elitist. Vote for the person you most agree with. I'm John McCain and I approve this ad. Let's have a real election for a change.

From Obama:

There is an ad out there suggesting that you should not vote for John McCain because he is too old. John is 71 years old and very healthy. This is not too old to be president. If you agree with him you should vote for him. It’s his policies that should be the focus of the election, not his age. So, let me state for the record: John is an honest, dedicated public servant. He does not believe we should stay in Iraq for 100 years or that we should bomb, bomb Iran. I will be happy to get your vote if you disagree with John about what we should be doing in the Middle East, but I want you to base your decision on what he really believes, not on his jokes. This is one of many issues on which we disagree, and this election should be about those disagreements. Vote for the person you most agree with. Let’s have a real election for a change.

There are major differences between the two parties’ approaches to many important issues. If each candidate took the lead in keeping America’s eye on the ball, perhaps we could have a real election for a change.

David Reingold is the Foster Chair professor of chemistry at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa.