This generation didn't invent negative campaign ads, tactical smears or the use of exaggerated half-truths. Those have been around, in one form or another, since the start of the republic. But they never have been as powerful or as maddening (depending on your loyalties) as they have since television came along.

As with just about everything else in the information age, those ads haven't disappeared into the ether. You can watch virtually all of them, from 1952 to 2004, at www.livingroomcandidate.org, the Web site of the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. In fact, we recommend it.

For one thing, a trip through the political ads of your youth will convince you that things haven't become any nastier, just better produced and photographed. More importantly, they'll help you see today's political ads in a different light.

Watching Kennedy and Nixon slug it out, or the way Lyndon Johnson tried to portray Barry Goldwater, looks differently today than it would have then, now that the passions of the era are gone and we know more or less how things turned out. That can help you view today's ads a bit more dry-eyed, as well.

We doubt you'll see many that are more manipulative than the one Johnson's campaign produced in 1964, showing an innocent little girl licking an ice cream cone while a woman's voice explains how a nasty man named Barry Goldwater wants to scrap the nuclear test ban treaty and begin contaminating the environment.

You'll probably be hard-pressed to find exaggeration on the scale of a Richard Nixon ad in 1972 that says Democrat George McGovern wants to put half of all Americans on welfare, saddling the other half with the bill.

Or maybe not.

Utahns tends to expect things to be a little nicer in their political ads. But even here things have gotten mean from time to time, and the race for the White House next year is bound to find its way into your living room, as well.

The nation can't expect to return to the days of, say, 1880, when the Republican convention in Chicago went through 36 ballots before settling on James Garfield. He refused to make an acceptance speech. None of the other candidates were there, either. To speak on one's own behalf was considered ungentlemanly and undignified.

But then, supporters of those men had no qualms about being as nasty as the times would allow.

Whether in 1880, 1964 or today, attack ads are aimed at the uninformed and the gullible. The voter's goal should be to seek immunization through information.