Dishonest, discredited, and a bundle of outright fabrications. That's how the latest ads from both the Obama and Romney camps have been received. Can politics be reaching such depths - already?
August is the cruellest month: so far, at least, in the presidential election, which is hurtling down an apparently unstoppable path of negativity and opporbrium. There is no sign of any Olympic spirit in politics, it seems, not if the latest campaign ads on both sides are anything to go by.
Perhaps it is an inevitable consequence of a race this tight: in the latest polls, Barack Obama is inching ahead in some of the key races that matter, while Mitt Romney's approval ratings continue to trail well below the numbers who find him unappealing. Yet this kind of caper, even in the long hot summer when voters might be seeking their vicarious entertainment elsewhere, can hardly help.
First off: the Romney campaign, whose latest TV spot zeroed in on a new change to welfare rules, which basically allow states a new waiver, enabling them to decide whether some people who don't manage to get work should still be eligible for benefit.
In the ad, it was all made to seem very straightforward - Obama, went the gist, was "gutting" welfare reform and giving carte blanche to scroungers. "Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work and you wouldn't have to train for a job. They'd just send you your welfare check".
In an unusual twist for a Republican TV ad, the victim of the piece is Bill Clinton, shown signing his 1996 welfare reform bill into law. In a memo from the Romney campaign, policy director Lanhee Chan drives home the real point - Obama wants to whack the middle classes and prop up the (undeserving) poor, calling it "a kick in the gut to the millions of hardworking middle class taxpayers...working more for less but always preferring self sufficiency to a government handout."
Pants on fire!
Democrats, and fact checkers, piled in to question the fundamental premise of the ad, arguing that the complex and nuanced changes to welfare legislation would not alter the basic principle of getting people into work. Bill Clinton himself went into lengthy detail: others were more succinct, dubbing the Romney team "pants on fire".
Barely had this little controversy cooled in the headlines then along came another, this time centred around an ad from Priorities USA, the political action group supporting Obama's re-election bid. The spot featured a man called Joe Soptic, and claimed his wife had died from cancer beause he'd lost his health insurance after he was laid off from a mill owned by Bain Capital, Mitt Romney's private equity firm.
The ad hasn't even been shown on television, but it triggered a storm of outrage - the Republicans immediately dubbed it "dishonest and discredited", while fact checkers pointed out that Mrs Soptic had her own insurance, which ran out two years after her husband lost his job, leaving her uncovered when the diagnosis was finally made. She died some years after that.
Obama's spokesman Stephanie Cutter insisted she had nothing to do with Priorities USA anyway. "I don't know the facts of when Joe Soptic's wife got sick", she told CNN. Ah, fired back the critics, but Mr Soptic and his story appeared in an official Obama ad about Bain job losses back in May. Pants on fire to you too!
Slam dunk for Mitt Romney on this one, perhaps? Not quite. The consistently gaffe-prone candidate, or at least his press officer Andrea Saul, managed to muddy the waters still further. If the Soptics had lived in Massachussets, she said, they would have been covered anyway, under Governor Romney's health care legislation.
The kind of health care plan, then, that Obama has just managed to introduce nationwide, in the teeth of furious opposition from the GOP? Yes, that kind. Cue fury from the political right, declaring the comment would make it impossible to attack Obama on his health changes - and suggesting it reveals just how unreliably conservative Mitt Romney really is.
As for the wider implication - Romney kills women with cancer! - step forward Bill Burton, co-founder of Priorities USA. Romney, he confirmed, was not involved with, or responsible, for Ilyona Soptic's death. "That's not what the ad suggests", he said, which is just as well.
But for Greg Sergent, from the Washington Post, the whole row reveals a pivotal moment for the campaign: should the Government intervene to provide, where the market does not, or should conservatives be given free reign to roll back the state still further?
The Lingle jingle
Perhaps the presidential teams should simply go for overkill, taking their cue from one Republican candidate from Hawaii, running for the US Senate.
Step forward Linda Lingle: it's a name you could get very familiar with if you're in Honolulu. Not content with the odd campaign ad, the New York Times reveals that she has launched a 24-hour digital cable station to promote her campaign: all Linda Lingle, all of the time. "It's not a station I would watch", said one voter, but Ms Lingle appears undaunted.
Campaign advertising, literally, around the clock? And you thought Hawaii was known for throwing a rocking luau. Between that, and all this economising with the truth, you'd forgive the average voter for wishing for the days when August was the silly season, before the real politics began.
Felicity Spector writes about US politics for Channel 4 News