Sunday, January 20, 2008

A History of Political Mud-Slinging and Character Assassination

"If you vote for Nixon, you ought to go to hell."
-Harry S Truman, campaigning for John F. Kennedy, in 1960

The line from "Give 'em Hell Harry" just cracks me up. Could you just imagine a politician today saying these lines? Especially with a Huckabee background?

We often hear people bemoan the level of discourse, the "nasty" attack ads, the height of new lows, etc. In truth, we're carrying on a 208 year-old tradition (In 1789, George Washington ran unapposed; 1792, first political parties formed....4 years later- let the mud fly!) - and I'd say that today we are more civilized, not less....or perhaps, about the same.

Here are other examples:
  • 1800: Jefferson hired a writer named James Callender to attack President Adams. He wrote that John Adams is "a repulsive pedant," a "gross hypocrite," and "a hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensiblity of a woman."
  • 1876 the opponents of Rutherford B. Hayes spread around a rumor that he had shot his own mother in a fit of rage.
  • A Democratic newspaper told voters that Lincoln should not be elected president because he only changed his socks once every 10 days.
  • 1912: Theodore Roosevelt is shot in the chest while preparing to give a campaign speech, then proceeds 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!”
  • 1828: a Republican pamphlet said Democrat Andrew Jackson was "a gambler, a cock fighter, a slave trader and the husband of a really fat wife," an insult for which he never forgave his opponents.
  • 1844: Democrats call Whig candidate Henry Clay on his "supposed baggage train of gambling, dueling, womanizing and "By the Eternal!" swearing." Clay lost.
  • 1836: Congressman Davy Crockett accuses candidate Martin Van Buren of secretly wearing women’s clothing: “He is laced up in corsets!”

Hmm.....I guess Giuliani won't be the first.

Hugh Hewitt: Watching Hillary’s campaign go after Senator Obama, does it tell you what you’re in for if she’s the nominee and you’re the nominee?

Rudy Giuliani: (laughing) I have a pretty good idea. I had a pretty good idea before.

There's a new book out, called "Anything for a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots, and October Surprises" by Joseph Cummins. Sounds very entertaining for us political junkies.

You can see a book preview, here.

RT Rider has more, including the famous "Daisy" video ad from Johnson-Goldwater. I bet Democrats would have loved to run it in 2004, replacing "Goldwater" with "Bush". Oh, waitaminute....Remember the "Bush-Hitler" ad? If you haven't seen THAT video, you really should. See it here. Some disgusting things should be viewed, to be believed.

And also reprints this from the book: On the Bill Clinton of the 1920's, Warren G. Harding:
When Republican operatives decided to nominate the fifty-five-year-old Ohio senator, they asked if he had anything hidden in his personal life that would "disqualify" him from winning the presidency. Harding asked for some time to reflect on the question, and he may have pondered that he chewed tobacco, played poker, loved to drink (Prohibition had just been voted in), and was having affairs with not only the wife of one of his friends but also a young woman thirty years his junior, with whom he had an illegitimate daughter. Then he said, nope, nothing to hide, guys -- it's all good.
Ain't politics fun?

This site has an archive of political cartoons and ads.

Bright Goings On
Cartoonist: Unknown
Source: Fun
Date: November 4, 1864, p. 84

In this cartoon from Fun, a British humor magazine, John Bright shakes hands with President Abraham Lincoln, who appears as a militaristic half-wit stepping on the U.S. Constitution. Bright was a Liberal member of parliament and leading reformer whose Quaker religious beliefs (note his Quaker hat) provoked his intense aversion to slavery. During the American Civil War, he was an outspoken supporter of the Lincoln administration and the Union cause, although his pacifism prevented him from calling for British military intervention on the side of the Union. The fallen man in the cartoon’s background may be Confederate President Jefferson Davis or Uncle Sam.

A Warning
Cartoonist: Unknown
Source: Fun
Date: December 3, 1864, p. 115
This ominous cartoon appeared in Fun, the British humor magazine, after Abraham Lincoln’s reelection. The president is depicted as a vengeful warmonger whose prosecution of the Civil War has resulted in extensive loss of life for no apparent gain to the nation.

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Blogger Mike's America said...

How is Truman's "go to hell" line any different from Howard Dean's declaration that he "hates Republicans and everything they stand for?"

Nothing has changed. No amount of boo-hooing over "partisanship" will create a more civil discourse!

This is just the way things are.

Saturday, January 19, 2008 8:30:00 PM  
Blogger The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

Mike, from a Hitchens article cited at Pondering Penguin:

Hitchens includes a quote from Madeleine Albright. She states there is "a special place in hell for women who don't help each other."

Yup. Nothing new under the sun.

Saturday, January 19, 2008 10:14:00 PM  
Blogger J_G said...

I thunk I've been pretty civil as of late. I go through cycles with that.

The jackass that represents the thought processes of democrats even today came from the campaign of 1828 During the election, Jackson's opponents referred to him as a "Jackass." Jackson liked the name and used the jackass as a symbol for a while, but it died out. However, it later became the symbol for the Democratic Party when cartoonist Thomas Nast popularized it

Another interesting personal attack from the Adams camp in the 1828 election when Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams were running against each other for the second time.
Jackson's marriage came in for attack: when he had married his wife Rachel, the couple had believed that she was divorced; however, the divorce was not yet finalized, so he had had to remarry her once the legal papers were complete. In the Adams campaign's hands, this became a scandal. One pamphlet asked: “Ought a convicted adulteress and her paramour husband to be placed in the highest offices of this free and christian land?”

Saturday, January 19, 2008 10:38:00 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

Thanks for the reference, Word. That quote struck me as really right on the mark for those on the left.

In the race going on today, it seems the Clintons and the Huckabee campaigns embrace the mudslinging stuff the most vigorously. With Huckabee, who runs as the "Christian" in the race, it is particularly disconcerting to watch the slime thrown.

Such is the nature of the game.

Sunday, January 20, 2008 6:25:00 AM  
Blogger SkyePuppy said...

Hmmm... That insult to Jackson about a really fat wife reminds me of what the Brits did to Prince Andrew about Princess Fergie. Uncivilized (or uncivilised) behavior knows no boundaries.

So which is worse? Saying horrible things about your opponent, or screaming, "Character assassination!" when someone challenges your record?

Some of the vitriol of a bygone era has died down, but the taking offense is just as high as if there were real mud going around. I think it's the feigned defensiveness that bothers me more than the attacks these days.

Sunday, January 20, 2008 6:35:00 AM  
Blogger Indigo Red said...

Huey Long, a former Governor of Louisianna and US Senator in the 1930s, trounced a campaign opponent by 'accusing' him of being a "heterosexual."

Sometimes the truth can be the most damaging of dirty tricks.

Sunday, January 20, 2008 3:53:00 PM  

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