Editorial: Hoping for a general election without the vitriol

In the aftermath of the Tuesday primary, we can't help thinking about the theme that's on everyone's mind in the 2016 election campaign, and pondering the Democratic race for Congress from the 8th District.

With the sting of defeat still achingly fresh, here is what losing candidate Mike Noland of Elgin had to say: "I want to congratulate my opponents on a well-run, issue-based campaign. It was an honor to debate the issues with such informed opponents ..."

It is typical for political candidates to make at least a pretense of grace in either victory or defeat following an election, and victor Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg echoed Noland's praise for the nature of the 8th District campaign, as the third candidate, Villa Park Mayor Deb Bullwinkel, did throughout the race.

But this case was no pretense. We have watched all three of these candidates for years, and we followed their respectful campaign closely. We know they meant what they said, and we agree with them about the character of their campaign.

Oh, for such class throughout all of politics. It's a rare commodity any year, but in 2016, the Donald Trump phenomenon has helped reduce it to a show of weakness, as Marco Rubio lamented in his eloquent withdrawal from the presidential race,

And the outlook for the general election is not promising - certainly not in the presidential campaign but in races closer to home in Illinois and the suburbs as well.

U.S. Senate candidates Democrat Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates and Republican Mark Kirk of Highland Park, both of whom rode stealth campaigns to primary victories, appeared primed for a bitter and personal general election battle.

"Mark Kirk has long embraced Trump's brand of divisive rhetoric and fear mongering, and now he is embracing the man himself," Duckworth declared in an ironic and not-entirely-ingenuous attack.

Kirk, not to be outdone, assailed Duckworth's judgment, claiming, "I am fighting to protect our country from terrorists who are determined to attack and kill Americans, while Tammy Duckworth wants to accept 200,000 unvetted Syrian refugees."

A similarly caustic contest appears destined in other prominent races, notably the 10th District congressional rematch between Republican Bob Dold of Kenilworth and Democrat Brad Schneider of Deerfield, but don't stop there.

These displays of bullying can also be chillingly subtle. In a primary scheme of near-Corleonic proportions, the president of the United States insinuated himself into an Illinois state House contest to punish a fellow Democrat who dared defy the powerful Illinois speaker.

Candidates seem to consider these intrigues and outrages "toughness" and they think that we voters appreciate it, that we'll forgive them if they pretend to kiss and make up when the dust of the campaign settles.

If we do, shame on us. For such actions distort, disguise and distract from the actual values, experiences and platforms that we need to see and evaluate if we are to define at the ballot box the future we want. As Rubio said, they "leave us incapable of solving problems."

With the exception of the presidential contest, the races are now in place for voters in Illinois and the suburbs. Few, it seems, will exhibit the character of the 8th District congressional primary, and one feels naive to hope or encourage otherwise.

But it is not naive to resolve as voters to demand more, to look beneath the bombast, to repudiate bullying and to exalt true candor.

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