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Quick shots: GOP extremes and Dems' burden

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sarah Palin says election a choice between culture of life, or death
  • John Avlon: Such false choices obscure the real issues
  • September labor report shows nation still losing jobs
  • David Gergen: Democrats head into election with little to show for flood of new spending

(CNN) -- Editor's note: There are 25 days to go before voters cast ballots in the hotly contested midterm elections. In this special feature, CNN's political contributors share their quick thoughts on what's making news.

John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for The Daily Beast. He is the author of "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America."

David Gergen is a senor political analyst for CNN and has been an adviser to four U.S. presidents. He is a professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Avlon: A campaign of false choices

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The "silly season" feels more like an insane season this year.

I'm not talking about Christine O'Donnell's surreal "I'm not a Witch" ad (though I couldn't resist mentioning it). I'm talking about the politics of incitement -- the fear-mongering and false choices that too often dominate our political debates.

Case in point came this week from two prospective 2012 GOP presidential nominees who have been hitting the campaign trail hard for candidates this year. Newt Gingrich pronounced 2010 a choice between food stamps and paychecks, not Democrats and Republicans. Sarah Palin went the existential route, calling it a choice between "a culture of death" and "culture of life."

It's a measure of our political culture: running for president used to inspire a person to be more responsible; now irresponsibility is seen as a strategic asset when it comes to playing to the base.

In this year's candidate ads, we've seen Florida Democrat Alan Grayson describe his opponent as "Taliban Dan" (during wartime), and now GOP Senate nominee Sharron Angle of Nevada has an ad portraying Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as scheming to spend taxpayer dollars to buy Viagara for child molesters and sex offenders.

It's not just ugly; it's stupid. It plays to the worst instincts of the American people. It's evidence of politicians following the talk-radio model, where there is no such thing as too extreme. (And in a sign of things to come, Rush Limbaugh's new name for President Obama is "imam child.") No wonder 130 former lawmakers signed a letter warning that politicians "who far exceed the bounds of normal and respectful discourse are not viewed with shame but are lionized. ... Meanwhile, lawmakers who try to address problems and find workable solutions across party lines find themselves denigrated by an angry fringe of partisans."

This is the state of politics in 2010 -- hate and fear used to pump up hyper-partisanship. Unless we confront this culture, it will make governing the country and solving common problems even tougher after the election.

Gergen: Jobs report a heavy burden for Democrats

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Friday's unemployment report -- the last before November's election -- delivers a harsh verdict for Democrats.

Barack Obama now heads into the midterm elections with the highest average unemployment record of any president since records were first kept some 60 years ago. For presidents from Eisenhower to Bush, unemployment has averaged in the mid-5 percent range; under Obama, the average is 9.4 percent.

The current situation also breaks the record for the longest period of elevated unemployment: stuck at 9.5 percent or higher for 14 straight months.

Democrats can argue they inherited an economic calamity -- and they are absolutely right -- but they have precious little to show for their flood of new spending, and they seem to have run out of ideas on how to fix things. It's hard to imagine a heavier burden for Democratic candidates to carry into November.

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