The fusillade of negative ads from all sides in the November election has the obvious goal of confusing those voters the ads don't immediately sway in the hope the other candidate will lose some of his or her support. There is no positive here, for anyone, and voters would be wise to keep the TV remote in hand through Nov. 6.
But voters everywhere can keep their own minds clear about who they should support by reducing the key points that have been debated -- and twisted and spun -- for years to their basics. Breaking these issues down to simple choices can help voters decide where they stand.
For instance, in the highest profile race, for president:
* One candidate -- Mitt Romney -- and his party refuse to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, those with incomes above $250,000. President Obama has made that proposal numerous times. This should be a telling point, one way or the other.
* One candidate would come in as a rookie to the Oval Office, while another, the president, has four years of experience. The converse would be whether you believe Mr. Obama's record requires tossing him out and starting over with someone new.
* One candidate headed a private equity venture capital investment group, Bain Capital, which often bought or invested in struggling companies and typically laid off employees or moved jobs overseas with the overall goal of making a profit for the investors while righting the company's ship. The president, in contrast, was a community organizer in Chicago, then an Illinois state lawmaker and finally a U.S. senator before his election as president. These roles should give clear insights into each man's character, regardless of specific issues.
* The president has shown a willingness to compromise on the status of millions of illegal immigrants and steps toward possible amnesty, while Mr. Romney's party's stance -- and apparently his as he hasn't contradicted that view -- has been against amnesty or similar compromises for those now living in the United States.
* The president has stated that he favors federal stimulus spending until the recession is over followed by future cuts in all areas of the federal budget to lower the long-term debt. He believes tax hikes, particularly on the wealthy, are necessary. Mr. Romney and his party oppose any tax hike and believe tax cuts, except for defense spending -- in other words, "supply side," or "trickle down theory" -- would stimulate the economy and restore prosperity.
* One candidate's party, Mr. Romney's, has backed voter ID laws in numerous states that will have the practical effect, if allowed to stand, of limiting participation by lower-income voters in those states lacking photo IDs. The president and his party, the Democrats, have fought those laws and oppose them.
There are other key issues, which should suggest themselves from this list. The point is, voters should do the work, "do the math," whatever it takes, to decide what their interests are and what is best for the country, now and in the future.
The presidential election, as well as those for members of Congress and the state legislatures, will set the tone for years to come.