The shame of Halloween is that it's no longer a celebration just for children. It has long since been co-opted by adults and, yes, even politics.

How so? Consider the many propositions, ballot measures and candidates running for office on Nov. 6. There are more masks there than at Mardi Gras, and the challenge for voters is to figure out who and what is behind these facades.

Supporters of Measure U in Cotati, for example, would have voters believe that traffic roundabouts are a risk to life and limb and must be banned. It's a silly argument, but by demonizing them — and scaring voters in the process — they hope to get their way and overturn a sensible plan to make Old Redwood Highway more attractive and safe.

By the same token, opponents of Proposition 30 are trying to portray the governor's tax initiative as an apparition that, when the election is over, will vanish along with the $5 billion in funds dedicated to education. More nonsense.

But no decision requires more discernment than the one at the top of the ballot. We encourage voters to look beneath the veneers carefully. To do so, they have a great tool — three 90-minute debates that are worth reviewing.

President Barack Obama was zombie-like in the first debate but recovered to show life and debating skills in the second, which, in our view was the most spirited and revealing of the three. The third was the least inspiring as the candidates offered little day light between their positions on most matters of foreign policy, resulting in arguments that were largely embellished if not contrived.

Nevertheless, Obama, despite signs of an improving economy, has largely been on the defensive during this campaign, struggling to explain his actions over the past four years to right a faltering economy. In the process, he has failed to articulate his vision for how the next four years would be different from his first term. In other words, undecided voters don't know what to make of him. He is the invisible man.

By contrast, there's former Gov. Mitt Romney, the man of 1,000 faces. One minute, he wears the costume of the fiscal conservative who vows to slash federal spending without detailing how that would be done. Sometimes he wears a military uniform, vowing to bolster military spending. Then he bears the shield of the middle class, vowing to slash taxes by $5 trillion while repealing Obama's health care reform package.

What he has failed to do, however, is explain how he will manage to make it all work. His math doesn't work.

Romney claims he will reduce spending through closing loopholes and adopting policies that sound remarkably like trickle-down economics, a well-worn costume that we hoped was retired about the debacle that was the George W. Bush administration. Eight years of tax cuts and two unfunded wars are the primary reasons for the nation's debt problem.

Yes, the shame of Halloween is that it has co-opted by adults. The shame of presidential politics is that it has been abandoned to child-like pledges of success without means — of addition by subtraction.

In this election, be skeptical of treats. Anticipate the tricks. And look behind the masks.