09/19/2012 09:18 am ET Updated Nov 19, 2012

Lowering Expectations

The 2008 presidential election was one of the most vicious in US history. Both Senator John McCain and President Barack Obama's organizations spent millions of dollars on attack ads that tried to damage the reputations and records of the men running for office. But even in the midst of that no-holds-barred election season, when McCain was asked whether or not then-Senator Barack Obama was "an Arab" by an elderly woman at a town-hall, McCain shook his head at the question, grabbed the microphone back from the woman, and -- to boos from the audience -- told his supporters that Senator Obama "is a decent person." He called Obama "a decent family man [and] citizen that [he] just [happened] to have disagreements with on fundamental issues." Perhaps most importantly, McCain made sure to say that President Obama "is not [an Arab]." With the decision to put politics aside in that very brief moment, McCain was able to, at least in part, retain his integrity. And that is what Governor Mitt Romney has failed to do this campaign.

Romney has had several opportunities to distance himself the most radical, racist facets of The Republican Party. Still, instead of sticking by what is moral, right, or even honest, Romney and his campaign have continually put politics first. Rather than apologizing for blatantly false ads claiming President Obama plans to "gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements," Governor Romney and his surrogates have been persistent in spreading this lie, repeating it in stump speech after stump speech -- all in a desperate attempt to invoke the most hateful beliefs rooted in the GOP. On a campaign stop in Michigan, Governor Romney appealed to the nearly extinct birther population by joking that, unlike the president, "no one's ever asked to see [Romney's] birth certificate," (a "joke" based on the fundamental reality that President Obama has been treated unfairly because of his race). Likewise, Romney has changed his mind on issues ranging from health care to gay marriage for political gain. And of course, Governor Romney has never called the president "a decent family man."

Now, John McCain's 2008 campaign was far from innocent. McCain nominated one of the most extreme, radical, and inexperienced vice-presidential nominees in history for VP, campaigned on malicious attacks that centered on the President's connection to Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, and stressed divisive rhetoric. The Guardian went as far as to call the 2008 campaign "the most vicious campaign ever." But with Mitt Romney leading the charge, this campaign has forced us all to lower our expectations of the honesty and integrity of politicians.

Tom Brokaw attributed Mitt's insensitive birther remark to his lack of a sense of humor, calling it an "awkward joke." Political pundits frantically searched for less-harsh sounding words than the word "lie" ("embellishments," "misleads," and "construed facts" seem to be the most used ones...) to describe the lies in Paul Ryan's speech to the RNC. And just this week, Romney surrogates (such as Senator Rob Portman from Ohio) were forced to defend Romney's accusation that the Obama administration "[sympathizes] with those who waged the attacks" in the middle east that killed four innocent Americans in Libya (citing a statement from the United States Embassy in Cairo that was released hours prior to the attacks).

The media has lowered their expectations of politicians, but we shouldn't lower ours. Even though the Romney says his campaign is not going to be "dictated by fact checkers," as voters, it is our duty to sort out how much of what politicians say is accurate; our votes should be "dictated by fact checkers." Whether or not John McCain's answer to a question at a town hall was successful in getting him elected shouldn't damper the importance of his sentiment. McCain spoke to what politics should be about: "disagreements on fundamental issues." If the political debates we see -- in classrooms, on television, on the campaign trail -- become centered on the "fundamental issues," we can create real, positive change.