Has dumbing down political discourse become the surest path to the White House? Are Americans so self-deluding and dim-witted they are unable to countenance leaders who know more than they do? Can’t voters handle the truth?

Curiously, despite general agreement that Hillary Clinton has smarts, she feels compelled to prove her bona fides by voting for war, gulping down beer with the locals and threatening to annihilate an entire country if need be. And to further a woman-of-the-people image she floats the absurd notion that Barack Obama is an elitist, a charge happily endorsed by McCain who says Obama is “insensitive to poor people”.

No wonder there is such confusion in the land. With all the asides discussed in print and what passes for debate these days, beleaguered voters are either in a state of decision-making suspension or convulsed by rabid partisanship – – a perfect setting for those niggly little wedge issues to shape the outcome of elections that ought to be about deeply concerning national issues.

Campaigns have a way of re-writing history and avoiding complicity in governmental intransigence. But it is insulting for Senator McCain, in a rare moment of ‘distancing himself’ from the President, to criticize the administration’s handling of Katrina. Those pictures of a grinning Bush arriving in Arizona to celebrate McCain’s birthday with a cake he had brought were a sickening display at the very time stranded victims in nearby New Orleans languished on roof tops or without food and water at a convention center.

It is a national disgrace that New Orleans remains overwhelmed by the displaced and near-homeless, with scant relief for those most in need, and a corrupt rebuilding process that has produced sub-standard levees. McCain and the president neglect the people of New Orleans and other disadvantaged members of society while continuing to pour tax dollars and borrowed funds into Iraq where an enormous US Embassy complex is being built and where funds disappear with little or no accountability.

Sadly, while Senator Clinton continues to depict Obama as an out-of-touch elitist, McCain gets away with some of the lamest performances of the campaign season – – not just his crocodile tears in New Orleans but his glee at a primary win in Pennsylvania where his candidacy was a done deal yet where Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee managed to pick up 16% and 11% of the vote, respectively, and where the Republican vote count was less than half the total votes cast by Democrats.

And when asked to comment on the Supreme Court’s five-to-four decision reversing a lower court’s award to Lilly Ledbetter for Goodyear’s discriminatory pay practices and the subsequent failure of legislation to re-define the issue by the Senate, McCain said he didn’t support any new law because it would interfere with decisions better left to business. The Court’s narrow reading of the guidelines declared that Ledbetter should have made her complaint within 180 days of the first infraction rather than when she was about to retire and became aware of a wrongdoing that had been repeated with each pay check over a 19-year period of employment – – a departure from previous interpretations.

Stranger still was a follow-up response that he supported greater opportunities and better training for women, issues that had absolutely nothing to do with the Ledbetter case. Talk about being out-of-touch and irrelevant, there is something seriously wrong with this man’s thought processes and his grasp of the human condition. But he has yet to be properly challenged because of the lengthy Democratic primary and because the media have been slow to pick up on his inconsistencies.

At the moment, though, a kind of ennui is setting in after numerous debates, endless re-runs of Reverend Wright film clips and Senator Clinton’s claims of “day-one” readiness. Poking fun at constant references to her White House experience, Gary Shandling on a recent “Real Time with Bill Maher” joked that, following that logic, Monica Lewinsky who also spent time in the White House could perhaps serve as Secretary of Defense.

Humor is a great way of peeling off layers of over-wrought resume building. However, Democrats need to focus on McCain’s shortcomings instead of gifting Republicans with talking points lifted from their primary battles and, hopefully, win in November without hiding their intellect behind a beer mug or a bowling ball.