While all eyes were riveted to the spectacle of the Democratic candidates cutting each other down to size, George W. Bush quietly achieved a milestone. The highest disapproval rating for a president in the 70-year history of the Gallup Poll.
Put bluntly, 69 percent of Americans who participated in the most recent survey think the Bush presidency has been a bust. Sixty-three percent now think the invasion of Iraq was a mistake.
Strangely, though, buyer's remorse over the current president isn't having a significant effect on the marketing of the candidates vying to replace him.
In 2000, we passed up the brainy guy who talked a lot about energy and the environment in favor of the candidate who seemed like he'd be fun to have a beer with. Four years later, we bought into a phony debate over patriotic credentials.
Both times, intellect was sold as "elitism" and bravado as competence.
Candidates were marketed like goods in a camping store. We were sold a president who was durable and a "regular guy," and we got stuck with Bush, Iraq, the Katrina debacle and eight years of inaction on big, festering problems like climate change and health care.
Well, Hillary Clinton is using the "elitist" label against Barack Obama at every opportunity. He, in turn, feels compelled to reveal that he has only five suits - all the same kind - and four pairs of shoes.
A campaign that was supposed to be about change, hope and tackling big problems has shrunk down to a worried examination of Obama's over-the-top former pastor and the candidate's failure to wear a flag pin at all times.
Once again, campaign messages are coming across something like Cabela's ads - pitched to those rugged customers most likely to own guns and not have much use for hoity-toity lawyers who admit to shopping at a Whole Foods store.
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Perhaps this is the inevitable result of a primary season that began too soon and has lasted too long. Clinton and Obama are too much in agreement on major issues to debate them for extended periods. So the focus has shifted to image and contrived speculation about who is best qualified to handle a 3 a.m. phone call.
It's actually been refreshing recently to see the two arguing about a gas tax holiday. Finally, a real issue.
There's still time to salvage this electoral season. Somewhere in that 69 percent presidential disapproval rating is a call for an elevated conversation.
So, fellow citizens, let's stand our ground. Let's tell the professional manipulators that a show of intellect isn't snobbery. Actually, we want an elite person holding the highest office in the land.
Let's reclaim the concept that patriotism is defined as one's service to fellow citizens, not by the wearing of a flag pin.
Let's lose the notion that the only voter who counts is that stereotypical middle-age white guy who drinks boilermakers and is obsessed with security issues, gun ownership and toughness at all costs.
That voter is important, but so are his children, that new generation which has shown itself to be tolerant, hopeful and willing to roll up its sleeves and work to correct conditions in this country and abroad. That generation deserves a campaign conversation that takes on big subjects like our environmental future, our nation's standing on the world stage and the role that government should play in people's lives.
Our president's groundbreaking disapproval rating ought to extend to disapproval of the way we allow quality people and ideas to be diminished at election time.
Barbara Shelly is a member of the Kansas City Star editorial board. This commentary was distributed by McClatchy Newspapers.