Let's compare

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So accustomed have we become to nasty ad tactics in political campaigns that their relative absence -- thus far -- from the presidential primary campaigns has become news in itself. To quote one political ad consultant's remarks in our story on this phenomenon last week: "It's remarkable." Lest this interval of "niceness" get out of hand, a word must be said in defense of harder-edged stuff.

This is not a call for mudslinging, distortion and character assassination -- though each, unfortunately, has its fans among political hard-ballers. It is instead a reminder -- for candidates and consumer/voters -- of the value of comparative advertising.

If voters are to make intelligent choices, they need reasons to choose Bradley over Gore, or Bush over McCain, Forbes and the others in the field. And the candidates need to show where and how they differ from one another -- on issues and policies, not in on-the-stump rhetoric.

Comparison ads that are fairly done (and don't distort rivals' positions) can be effective, powerful and serve the public interest -- as they have served the interests of private-sector advertisers and consumers making buying decisions. Their use would also serve the voting "marketplace" far better than Bill Bradley's suggestion that he and Vice President Gore abandon campaign ads entirely in favor of debates. Let the candidates first give advertising -- including good comparative ads -- a chance.

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