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Campaign more than just a game

Former speaker of the U.S. House Newt Gingrich was no doubt smarting after what appeared to be a sure win in Iowa a month ago morphed into a distant fourth-place finish when the caucus votes were counted, but he did hit the nail squarely on the head with a comment he made Wednesday.

Already in the state of the next battlefield — the New Hampshire primary scheduled for Tuesday — Gingrich observed that the contest for the Republican presidential nomination was “not a campaign for senior class president, where it’s all a game.”

It certainly seems to have turned into one more and more with each successive presidential election. Candidates get graded on how they look, dress and act. The latest “insightful” critique? Some pundits are suggesting that part of darkhorse candidate Rick Santorum’s appeal to Iowa caucusers who made him an eight-vote runner-up to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney rested in the Pennsylvania senator’s choice of attire — vee-neck sweater vests. Those sweater vests now have their own Twitter account, and Santorum says his staff has been making sure he has plenty of the vests since they first noticed the appeal a while back in Des Moines.

Meanwhile, TV commentators sound a lot more like the sports guys on ESPN than journalists as they try to handicap the campaigns, which may explain why television’s most trusted newsman these days is Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show.”

It’s been said for years that Abraham Lincoln, seen by many as America’s greatest president after George Washington, would never have been able to win the White House in modern times. That view, sadly, gains more credibility with each election cycle.

The whole circus makes you wonder whether Americans understand how big the stakes are in these presidential elections. Whether Gingrich is the right person for the White House or not, he does, at least, understand that. “We are trying to decide as a nation who we are and where we’re going,” Gingrich told New Hampshire voters.

The problem is, whatever we as voters are doing, too many of use are making decisions based on empty sound bites, vicious attack ads and flavor-of-the-day campaign positions. America too often settles for charisma, style and pie-in-the-sky promises when it should demand leadership, dedication and down-to-earth truthfulness.

And we wonder how we can end up with jobs going overseas and a president and Congress whose respective job performances get dismal ratings.

The answer is simple. We do it to ourselves.

— The Albany Herald Editorial Board