Snipers, senators and TV ads baffle What a strange week it"s been. The D.C.-area sniper was caught, one of the great politicians of our time died in a tragic plane crash and Russian President Vladimir Putin used a form of nerve gas to subdue hostage-takers. Things may get even more bizarre in the next week. Halloween is coming up, and a few days after that are the elections, which may end up being even scarier. Let"s start with the sniper. If you ever needed proof that the news media have little to no idea what they"re talking about, here it was. While all of America was looking for a white van with a ladder rack, and a lone white gunman, the two African-American alleged snipers were traveling around in a dark Chevy. If you"ve ever thought that the so-called experts dragged onto television are just guessing at what they say, you"ve been vindicated. In the three weeks of the sniper saga, experts made hundreds of guesses about the snipers. Almost every one was wrong. And it"s wishful thinking to believe that the media will change their ways as a result of the embarrassment. The next time breaking news erupts, the same experts will be trotted out, the graphics departments will come up with catchy ways of packaging the tragedy and the talking heads will talk and talk and still end up wrong. The next time something like this happens, maybe they should just pull people off the street and present them as experts. They couldn"t have been any more off-course than the real experts on television. Could you almost see a bit of a letdown on the part of the media when the snipers were apprehended? What on earth will Larry King and Bill O"Reilly talk about now? On Friday, the political world lost a giant with the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone. One of the most principled men in politics, Wellstone was a refreshing change from the usual sort of blow-dried, pre-packaged senator normally seen on the Hill. Unlike some, he refused to compromise his beliefs, even when it proved unpopular to do so. He could easily have followed the pack and voted for the recent war resolution. It would possibly have helped his political prospects if he"d gone along with the pro-war crowd. But, instead, he followed his conscience and voted against the resolution. Only time will tell if his was the correct position, but he came to his beliefs honestly and without artifice. The book Profiles In Courage examined the careers of senators whose principles trumped all political considerations. If a sequel is ever written, one of the chapters would have to look at the life of the great Paul Wellstone. Perhaps the only good to come out of this tragedy is that it could be the spur for another principled man, former Vice President Walter Mondale, to re-enter public life. Mondale is a man of the highest integrity who will represent Wellstone"s legacy with honor. A lot is riding on this election. Even before the tragic death of Wellstone, this year"s battle was way too close to call. News reports say thousands of lawyers are being mobilized in case of protracted recounts and legal battles a la Florida 2000. Has it come down to this? Are courts going to decide each and every election from now on? It would save a lot of time and money if the courts preemptively issued their choices without the formality of an election. It"s official: America is split down the middle on just about everything. Look at recent opinion polls and you"ll see a 50-50 tie on just about every major issue. The presidential election in 2000 was a dead heat and the U.S. Senate could well end up 50-50 as well. Instead of seeking consensus on the great issues of the day, the current administration in Washington is trying to lead by fiat. That"s not a bad thing to do when you"re enormously popular, but not such a wise thing when half the people disagree with your basic viewpoint. Even more than before, it"s important to get out and vote this year. With the future of the nation literally at stake, this is no time for people to be apathetic. Whether you support the current direction of the nation or not, it"s important that every voice be heard and every ballot cast. It"s understandable when people tune out politicians, especially given the level of negative advertising on TV. Do politicians really think they can win elections by trashing their opponents? Well, actually, they do. Negative advertising is present because it works. Just about the only positive ads on TV are coming from Democratic sheriff candidate Frank Anderson and, strangely, Congressman Dan Burton. I may not share any of Burton"s views on the issues, but I like his ads. "A lot of you already know me," Burton says in his low-tech ads. "But for those of you who don"t, let me tell you what I believe." No name-calling, no sound effects, just a Hoosier sitting in front of a camera saying what he thinks. It"s been a very strange week indeed. And the future looks like it"s going to get even stranger. Nobody"s asked for my advice, but I"d say it"s time to hold on tight. And if things really start to go bad, try to get to the liquor store before martial law is imposed. You"ll thank me later.

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