The current campaign bodes poorly for Israel's future, no matter what the election's outcome.
From the beginning, both candidates have shown more concern with their personal political fortunes than with the national good.
Both knew, as Binyamin Netanyahu insisted, that no stable government can be formed given the current constellation in the Knesset. Even if Sharon wins an overwhelming victory, it is far from clear that he can form a government. Until he does, he does not become prime minister.
New elections for the Knesset, almost certain to take place within months, will cost the taxpayer at least another NIS 60 million.
Yet both Barak and Sharon worked tirelessly to keep such general elections from taking place now, which would have allowed a Netanyahu candidacy.
By now, when Barak looks in the mirror, he must see a bell curve: Up to this point further concessions will increase the Left and Arab vote; beyond that point they will cost too many Center voters. Thus one day we read that peace has never been closer, and the next that the prime minister has cut off contact with Arafat, and then the next day....
The most fundamental issues of national security and identity are being determined by poll numbers. One week, Barak's election advisors tell him to stop talking about the secular revolution so that haredim will stay home. The next week, with the situation desperate, the flag of revolution is unfurled again.
The campaign waged by the Left has been devoid of any sense of national responsibility or limitations. The Left's unrelenting message has been: Sharon's election ensures all-out regional war. "Now playing: War and Sharon," proclaim the Meretz posters.
Both Israeli and American defense experts rate the chances of such a war as far from negligible. Yet as Barak well knows, such a conflict would be started not by Israel, but by the Hizbullah-Syrian-Iraq axis.
If, God forbid, such a war does break out, Israel's international isolation will only be increased by the Left's current campaign. It will have paved the way for laying the blame at Israel's door: "Even the Israelis said Sharon would bring war."
Nor has the Left shown any limit whatsoever in its pitch to Arab voters. Justice Minister Yossi Beilin thought nothing of telling an Arab audience that Sharon is a "racist who is genetically programmed for war."
(Such talk, of course, is not inciteful.)
Arabic propaganda directed at Beduin in the South warns of Sharon "doing to you what he did to your parents in '48."
Thus the official post-Zionist line that Israel brutally expelled the Arabs in 1948 has now been enlisted on behalf of Barak's campaign.
On the slim chance that Israeli Arabs can be persuaded to vote, One Israel had plastered that sector with reminders of the killings in Sabra and Shatilla. Just what the world needs at a time when Israel is being accused of the wanton slaughter of children.
The degree to which the Left's campaign has focused on the Arab vote is a further chilling reminder of the degree to which Arab voters - for whom the preservation of Jewish life is not exactly a prime concern - control the fundamental security decisions of the State of Israel.
Today Arabs constitute 12% of the electorate (and 18% of the total population). If the Arabs turn out in full force, a candidate from the Right must win an overwhelming percentage of the Jewish vote - 57% to 43% - to be elected.
And it gets worse. Within a generation Arabs will be 20% of the electorate, and the Right-wing candidate will need 67% of the Jewish vote to win - a virtual impossibility. Those numbers make a mockery of the Zionist promise to build a state in order to protect Jews.
Neither candidate has had a word to say about crucial issues facing the country: the severe water shortage projected for this year; a highway grid that is twice as crowded as any other country in the world, without any mass transportation in sight; and a failing educational system.
The failure to address these issues, and the choice to instead focus exclusively on security, betoken a society that has given up on the future and can think only as far as tomorrow.
Neither candidate has shown the slightest awareness that our problems are not simply geo-political, but ones involving the nation's soul, and thus not amenable to the technocrat's solution. For that reason neither has made the slightest effort to articulate a vision of who we are and where we are going.
The saddest revelation of the Left's campaign is that our cultural and intellectual elites appear to have learned nothing since Camp David. Not one flicker of recognition that the Palestinian demands, which have remained completely unchanged in seven years, are irreconcilable with the existence of Israel. (Amnon Dankner pointed out in Ma'ariv two weeks ago that much of the hatred for Barak on the Left results from his revealing, through his reckless offers at Camp David and Arafat's rejection of them, that the "peace process" cannot bring peace.)
But not one word in the Left's ads suggests that the balloon has popped. Just the same tired question, over and over again: What's your alternative? To which the Right might counter: If your alternative is national suicide, even an ongoing intifada does not look so bad.
Having learned nothing from the recent past, our intellectual elites doom us to continue repeating it.