How do you decide for whom to vote?
There were web sites operating a year ago at this time at which you could take a quiz about your opinions on the top issues of the day, click a button, and find out which presidential primary candidate most closely matched your views.
But as government and the world become more complex, and the number of relevant issues multiplies, some people prefer to vote on character. Perhaps I agree with candidate A on some issues and candidate B on others -- but my impression of candidate A is that he's a statesman, concerned about the well-being of the people and about following his conscience, but my impression of candidate B is that he's power-hungry and has lost sight of the ideals that drew him to politics in the first place. Well, obviously I'm going to vote for candidate A, even if it means I have to swallow my disagreements with him.
That's certainly an understandable approach, and one I've followed myself on many occasions.
The trouble is, in today's political atmosphere, it's easy for people to try to counter this type of voting by tearing at any perceived flaw, by magnifying minor problems into major scandals, by trying to sling mud instead of to inspire greatness.
It's been called the "politics of personal destruction," and it is harming our country by discouraging good men and women from both political parties from running for office and by hurting the chances for bi-partisan cooperation and leadership once someone is elected.
We are a long, long way from the 2010 congressional elections, and we've already got two candidates for the Sixth District Congressional seat throwing mud at each other.
The challenger, Republican Dave Evans, of Wartrace, through campaign literature, has criticized the incumbent's participation in a NATO assembly in Europe, calling it a "taxpayer-funded vacation."
The incumbent, Bart Gordon (D-Murfreesboro), through his campaign literature, responded by criticizing Evans for displaying text on his campaign web site that was lifted from another candidate's web site. Evans defended this by saying the web site wasn't supposed to be ready for public consumption and that the copied web text would have been reviewed and replaced.
Both press releases were snide, snarky and unbecoming of people who claim to want an important leadership role.
Both campaigns, in my opinion, should be ashamed of themselves. What do either of these issues have to do with governing? Our nation has serious economic, military and social problems. How does any of this name-calling help us solve them?
I am torn between my responsibility as a journalist to pass along this kind of information, as it comes in, without letting my personal bias get in the way, and my desire as a citizen and voter not to see this turn into a fifth-grade playground scuffle.
Unfortunately, as much as we all claim we dislike negative campaigning, candidates keep using it because it works. It's our responsibility as citizens and voters to decide based on the issues and to try to recognize mudslinging as a sleazy campaign tactic rather than the path to good government.
-- John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.