Here's what is going on in the country that likes to boast of "American exceptionalism": The candidates for public office are lying through their teeth about their opponents. And if it's not the candidates themselves lying, it's the parties to which they belong or political action committees supporting them. The lesson, to mangle an aphorism by Ronald Reagan, is: "Don't trust; verify."
A couple of local examples ably make the case. The race for New York's 27th Congressional District has drawn the attention of national groups. Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Hamburg, won the traditionally Republican seat last year in a special election held to succeed Chris Lee, who resigned over photos of himself he sent over the Internet.
Now the Republicans, eager to preserve or expand their majority in the House, want to take the seat back, and all guns are blazing, too often, indiscriminately. Thus, the National Republican Congressional Committee is running an ad claiming that Hochul slashed $716 billion from Medicare.
But the facts are different. Hochul voted against the repeal of President Obama's health care plan, which includes a $716 billion reduction in the growth of Medicare, not a cut in its funding. What is more, a Republican plan offered by Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee, contained the same cuts. The ad is simultaneously wrong and hypocritical.
Democrats, not to be outdone, play fast and loose with the facts regarding the private sector record of Chris Collins, the Republican nominee for Hochul's seat. Among the many claims - all of them exaggerated or just wrong - by the House Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC, is this: "As county executive, Collins gave jobs to his friends, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars."
But, while Collins hired people he knew before his 2007 election to work in his administration, he paid them lower salaries than their predecessors.
Collins and Hochul are hardly alone in smearing their opponent with what amounts to lies. It is now part of the great American political pastime: Throwing anything at the TV viewer that has even the faint scent of plausibility and hoping voters are gullible enough to buy it at face value.
It is frankly insulting, and not just to voters whose intelligence and interests candidates treat with disdain. Even more importantly, it is an insult to a great democracy. We are supposed to elect the people we believe will do the best job for us - however we may define that - not the one who tells the best lies.
Some of this is the result of the Supreme Court's terrible 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case. It has unleashed torrents of outside money into races for offices in the House and Senate, as well as the presidency. The resulting super PACs, funded by wealthy individuals, are responsible for most of the damage.
The likelihood of the ruling ever being superseded seems remote, so Americans have little choice but to get used to a heightened level of dissembling in political campaigns. Many news sources, including The Buffalo News, examine political ads for truthfulness. It's hard to keep up with all the deceptions, but responsible voters have to try.