Pols must focus on the real issues

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"Daily Show" Executive Producer Ben Karlin told the Washington Post the program featuring Sen. John Kerry would be modeled after actual TV newscasts. "We're going to focus exclusively on events of 30 years or more ago," he joked, "and not on anything relevant to anything beyond 1964."

We couldn't agree more, and we say this without bias to either candidate or party: Enough with the mudslinging. Enough with ancient history. Get back to the issues that matter.

The 2004 election, with its use of Internet "Whack a Bush" games, Kerry flip-flop sandals, micro-targeting, MTV-style conventions and celebrity-soaked advertising will go down as a watershed for political marketing. But however clever, it's been more about style than substance.

Much of it is the work of political interest groups rather than the candidates themselves. These so-called 527s use the technique because it works. Moveon.org's marketing harnesses the star power of Martin Sheen, Matt Damon and Bruce Springsteen, and the endorsements, which generally forsake facts, have sway. Consider this: A MediaVest USA survey found 40% of 18-to-24-year-olds said celebrity endorsements would influence their vote.

The opposing 527 side is leveraging dirty politics to some effect. A study by The Annenberg Center found the Swift Boat veterans attack on Sen. Kerry was marshalling support against the candidate. A full 31% of viewers who saw the ad said they didn't believe Kerry earned his Vietnam medals versus 12% holding that opinion who did not see the spot.

President Bush has called for an end to it all, although at press time he had not renounced the controversial Swift Boat ads. "I don't think we ought to have 527s," he said, urging Sen. Kerry to issue a similar call. A political maneuver to erase Moveon's deeper-pocket advantage? Possibly. But from a non-partisan standpoint, it could also accomplish a greater goal: spotlighting what's really at stake for this country.

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