Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dirty Campaigns: American as Apple Pie

Anything for a Vote by Joseph Cummins

We get a lot of insults these days when pundits, pontificators and political apologists for one side or the other toss accusations and innuendoes around like parade candy. If you disagree with Mister 22% (Bush) you're a traitor. If you're a soldier and you disagree with the way the war's being managed, you're a "phony soldier." If you're trying to get Democrats elected you're "soft on terror," and if you object to the shredding of the Constitution you're "Islamofascist" or "feminazi" or just the standard commie pinko hippie scum. It just never seems to get old.

My 85-year old Mother, who watches Fox News religiously (I don't know why) gets very upset lately whenever the subject of politics comes up among the brothers and sisters. Which is a shame, because we all love to talk politics, even if we don't agree about everything. It wouldn't be so bad if her blood pressure didn't rise so visibly just before she goes into the O'Reilly rant about "hate, hate, hate!"

So I've decided the best thing I could do for her at this stage of her life (besides go spend some quality time just being with her, taking care of things for her, and listening to her stories) is buy her a copy of a new book by Joseph Cummins, entitled Anything for a Vote.

Cummins traces political campaign name-calling and insults through the entire history of our nation, from George Washington to G.W. Bush, with lots of juicy stops in between. If politics is too mean and nasty to talk about in polite company, that means it's as American as Mom and Apple Pie! In other words, politics has always been thus.

In what Cummins calls "one of the top five dirtiest elections of all time" - Thomas Jefferson versus John Adams in 1800 - Jefferson's hired political hack called Adams "a repulsive pedant," a "gross hypocrite," and, strangely enough, "a hideous hermaphroditical character who has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." Whoa.

Not to be out-slimed, the Federalists attacked Jefferson right back in the most personal ways. "Jefferson is a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia Mulatto father." A Connecticut paper mentioned the excesses of the French Revolution against Jefferson: "Are you prepared to see your dwellings in flames ... female chastity violated, children writhing on the pike? Thomas Jefferson was just sure to bring the Reign of Terror to American shores! History, of course, demonstrates quite differently.

Which is the point of this book, and the point I think Mom needs to reconnect with if she can. It's just hype and hyperbole. How the game is played, and if you care to participate in the process you sure shouldn't be taking any of it too seriously. Other choice tidbits:

• Congressman Davy Crocket accused candidate Martin Van Buren in 1836 of wearing women's underwear: "He is laced up in corsets!"

• Teddy Roosevelt got shot in the chest while preparing to make a campaign speech in 1912, but decided to deliver it anyway: "I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a bull moose!" Very effective.

• Former President Harry S. Truman told voters in the 1960 campaign that "if you vote for Richard Nixon, you ought to go to hell!"

I figure it might give Mom a giggle, remind her of her love of politics, and reassure her that all is not lost just because politicians disparage each other and the people think they're all crooks and liars. That's traditional Americana raw, just as it is. Which is pretty much just what it's always been.

[reposted from People First Politics]

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Anonymous said...

Do you think that Presidential Campaigning is exceptionally dirty this year? Or does it only looks so, because everything is happening now, because everything is so fresh?
Or maybe it should be so - the one who is smarter and dirtier, is a winner? And after elections we just should forget all false accusations, lies and smearing?
Looks like this year we are able to choose our candidate not only by his policies, but by thinking, is he a lesser lier. So, voters, defend your choice - who is competing honorably, and who is a bigger lier - Obama or McCain?

6:06 PM, September 22, 2008  

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