An alert reader in Dallas informs us that as he was stumbling through his morning ablutions this a.m., he heard a story on National Public Radio about this coming Sunday’s Russian presidential election. In Russia, he learned, one of the choices available on the ballot is “Against All Candidates.”

It occurred to us that if the various Republican and Democratic attack machines spend the next seven months trashing each other (as seems likely), by November, U.S. voters might come to wish for their own opportunity to check off “Against All Candidates” on a ballot.

As noted here before, the primary Republican attack machine, the Republican National Committee, has ample funding, separate from the treasure chest of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, and President Bush largely controls that apparatus (he handpicked Ed Gillespie, the chairman, who delegates then dutifully — and unanimously — voted into office). The Democratic National Committee doesn’t have such deep pockets, but liberal interest groups such as Americans Coming Together (ACT) and Media Fund do … so they’re likely to do the lion’s share of counter-attacking.

If it works as it has before, each attack machine will adopt the same purpose: To do the real mud-slinging, thereby allowing the candidate himself to take the high road. (Sen. Kerry is somewhat at a disadvantage here, in that he has less control over the Democratic counter-attack machinery, and he and his campaign can only hope that their proxies don’t do something too stupid or too nasty for the electorate to stomach.)

Often in past election campaigns, good work by reporters, along with plain common sense and street smarts on the part of the electorate, have eclipsed the most venal manipulations of partisan attack dogs.

The record of the campaign press so far this week on this front is not entirely encouraging. But we’re still betting that over the months ahead, even the deadline-harried press, and by extension, the viewing and reading public, will come to see through these Good Cop-Bad Cop routines that both sides resort to in flaying at their opposition.

We’ll do our part to monitor the process this time and keep you informed.

Steve Lovelady

If you'd like to help CJR and win a chance at one of 10 free print subscriptions, take a brief survey for us here.

Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.