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The end of this interminable campaign season brings to mind an old joke.

Two mountaineers were in the woods hunting when their hounds began howling and circling the base of a tree. Thinking the dogs had treed a raccoon, one of the hunters grabbed a stick and slicked up the tree to knock it to the ground.

When he got to his prey, he discovered the hounds were actually on the scent of a wildcat. The cat lit into the hunter with claws and teeth until he cried to his companion, "Shoot this thing!"

His buddy replied, "I"m afraid I'll hit you if I do."

The besieged hunter pleaded: "Just shoot up here amongst us; one of us has to have some relief!" 

That's where I'm at on this Election Day. After enduring the final barrage of attack ads, I don't care who wins today. I just want some relief.

I can't say scientifically whether the campaign ads reached historic lows this year in terms of their ugliness.

But they couldn't have missed it by much. Voters must be going to the polls thinking in every race they are choosing between two hardened evildoers who want to win the office only so they can destroy our lives. 

The concept of putting forth compelling and competing arguments based on issues and focused on the virtues of each candidate is lost. It's apparently more effective to tear your opponent down than to build yourself up. 

Political experts tell us that campaigns go negative because nasty works.

If that's true, it's our fault for rewarding gutter politics.

And it means we have the power to change it. If every voter, every funder, every endorser put candidates on notice that they'll get no support if they resort to name calling, fear mongering and character assassination, and stuck to that warning, the tone would improve. 

Looking ahead to 2020, that should become a movement in Michigan. Reject any candidate who plays dirty.

Candidates need to start hearing from voters who say, "We were going to support you, but your campaign was so mean it caused us to question your character."

Negative campaigning won't end until we stop responding positively.

nfinley@detroitnews.com   

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