WASHINGTON -- In the increasingly nasty battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, there's no place to go but down.
The latest tangles started Tuesday, when Vice President Joe Biden at a rally in southern Virginia jumped off his script to make a point about Romney's Wall Street proposals.
Biden said, "Romney . . . in the first hundred days, he is going to let the big banks once again write their own rules. Unchain Wall Street. They are going to put y'all back in chains."
I don't have a clue why Biden, from Delaware, decided to use a Southern dialect -- that's what it sounded like when I listened to him several times. And yes, race comes to mind because of where Biden said it.
Romney jumped on the opening Biden gave him at his rally in Chillicothe, Ohio, Tuesday night and Wednesday.
"Another outrageous charge just came a few hours ago in Virginia, and the White House sinks a little bit lower. This is what an angry and desperate presidency looks like. President Obama knows better, promised better, and America deserves better," Romney said Tuesday.
". . . So Mr. President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago and let us get about rebuilding and reuniting America."
Biden indeed flubbed, but for Romney to vault over to the neighborhood of "anger and hate" is itself over the top.
What's going on?
Negative ads and harsh rhetoric move undecided voters. Gutter tactics work.
This is not just about strongly advocating for Obama or Romney -- that's what campaigns are supposed to do.
Teams of transcribers and researchers on the Romney and Obama teams -- for the actual campaigns and the SuperPACs supporting them -- live for a verbal slip, an awkward phrase, a sentence that can be parsed, facts that can be distorted or tortured.
I'm not writing this so you can say, "to heck with voting, they all do it," and sit this one out.
I am imploring you in the months ahead to do some homework. Do some reading up on what's at issue in the now red-hot future-of-Medicare debate -- and not on websites that masquerade as nonpartisan.
For starters, the folks at two independent fact-check operations -- the Tampa Bay Times' Politifact.org and FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center -- sort out the political debate in thoughtful and simple language, and they have the guts to make the call.
Medicare is on the front burner since Saturday, when Romney tapped Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to be his running mate. As House Budget Committee chairman, Ryan is the architect of a plan to revamp Medicare. Ryan and Obama are both talking about curbing Medicare's growth, and there is room for a very healthy discussion on how this best be done. Romney is saying that Obama wants to "rob" Medicare. According to PolitiFact, that's "mostly false."
Not all campaign sins are equal. Distortions that occur in paid ads are the worst -- because they are deliberate, and the people who make spots know exactly what they are doing.
The main Obama SuperPAC, Priorities USA Action, ran a spot that was branded "misleading on several counts" by FactCheck.org. The ad crossed the line in a few places -- one being that a woman died from cancer a "short time" after Romney's Bain Capital shuttered the plant where her husband worked. The woman died five years after the plant closed.
Romney is running an ad -- and saying on the stump -- that the Obama administration wants to "gut welfare reform" by "dropping work requirements." That's not true, according to FactCheck and Politifact.
If the campaigns continue to be nasty -- and they will be -- don't expect them to fight fair.