There is a partial antidote to the mud-slinging, fact-averse campaigning that fills so much of our public discourse these days.
But it will work only if the candidates take the time to write, and voters take the time to read, answers to the detailed Political Courage Test put out by the outfit known as Project Vote Smart. As of this writing, pitifully few candidates from Western New York have met that challenge.
The project lives on the Internet, at www.votesmart.org. It is there that, after the Oct. 15 deadline, voters can look to see if their candidates for Congress and the New York Legislature have filled out the detailed questionnaires that plow through issues important and emotional, in alphabetical order, from abortion to welfare.
It's called a Political Courage Test because, by taking it, candidates risk offending some voters and also offer factoids that might be taken out of context and twisted for some of those aforementioned attack ads. Those who dare to take the test, therefore, have a right to expect that voters will check out the whole set of answers, not just allow a rival candidate or foggy interest group to interpret it for them.
The bad news is that neither major party candidate for president of the United States, Barack Obama or John McCain, has met the challenge and answered the Vote Smart questions. This despite the fact that McCain used to serve on the Project Vote Smart board of directors and was held up as a role model for other politicians to follow.
But voters have other ways to find out about the folks at the top of the ticket. Project Vote Smart is, or should be, the way for voters to learn much of what they need to know about lesser-known candidates, incumbents and challengers for other offices.
Project Vote Smart seeks and sorts information from public sources, such as voting records, interest group ratings and campaign contributions. But most of that information deals with incumbents. The Political Courage Test is a way to get into the heads of the challengers and candidates in races that have no current officeholder seeking re-election.
Maybe that's why the only two area candidates who, at last check, had returned their Vote Smart tests were political newcomers: Jane Corwin, R-Clarence, who's running for the 142nd District seat in the New York Assembly; and Christopher Schaeffer, D-Stockton, running in the State Senate's 57th District.
Two years ago, Western New York's congressional delegation included two incumbents who met the challenge of the test: Democrats Brian Higgins of Buffalo and Louise Slaughter of Fairport. As of Thursday, neither had taken this year's test.
There's still time, for them and for all the other candidates who claim to be worthy of our vote.