Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Meanest Election EVER!!

Articles like this one, drive me crazy. Ignore for a moment that the only candidate being accused of negative tactics is McCain. (Apparently it's a subtle dog-whistle to racist whites to have a black man appear in ads with two white women, but repeatedly using the word "confused" when describing the oldest man to run for the presidency is a completely legitimate observation of fact.) What really annoys me is all of the "meanest campaign ever" hand wringing we go through every four years. Shockingly enough, it grows louder in years when the Republican attack ads are more effective than those of their opponents. 2004 was a particularly good example of this lament. But, are these concerns really correct? Let's review some past elections:

-Thomas Jefferson was accused of atheism and sexual relationships with his slaves, while his opponent, John Adams, was accused of insanity and monarchical aspirations. It was also implied by the Federalists that Jefferson and his allies wanted to bring the French Revolution to America, and that their election would leave the populace unsafe in their own beds.

-Everyone remembers the famous Burr-Hamilton duel that lead to Hamilton's death. What caused that event? Oh, yes. A political rivalry characterized by personal attacks by both men.

-When Andrew Jackson won the White House, his wife was openly called an adulteress and a whore. She died shortly after he won the election, and he spent the remainder of his life convinced the assaults on her character had done his beloved wife in.

-Charles Sumner was beaten senseless by Congressman Preston Brooks (while one of Brooks' fellow Congressman held the other senators off at gunpoint) after he insulted his fellow Senator (and Brooks' uncle) Andrew Butler on the floor of the Senate during an abolitionist speech. The insult? Butler had taken "a mistress who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean, the harlot, Slavery." Sumner then went on to drive his point home by engaging in the rarefied intellectual pursuit of mocking Butler's speech and mannerisms, both the product of a recent stroke.

-Pro-slavery forces openly threatened crowds in 1856 and 1860 with the argument that if the Republicans took over, black men would be stealing their white daughters.

-You have to love the simplicity of Tilden supporters during the disputed election of 1876. "Tilden or blood" is as clear as it gets.

-"Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion" helped lose the election for James G. Blaine, who was, according to his opponents, "Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine. The continental liar from the state of Maine."

-Who could forget the classic slogan, "Ma, Ma, where's my pa? Gone to the White House, ha ha ha." (Implying that Grover Cleveland had fathered an unacknowledged illegitimate child)

-Woodrow Wilson (a good liberal, I might add) didn't worry about all the niceties of debate, or even about trying to come up with clever epithets to hurl against his opponents. He just jailed people for disagreeing with him during WWI or refused to let the Post Office deliver their publications.

-Lyndon Johnson was a master of nasty campaigning, threatening nuclear war if people elected Barry Goldwater in his famous "Daisy Girl" ad, and tying Senator Goldwater to the KKK in another ad, "Confessions of a Republican". The tone of the campaign can be captured by these parodies of Goldwater's slogan, "In your heart, you know he's right". “In your guts, you know he's nuts” “In your heart, you know he might" "In your heart, he's too far right"

-The 1976 Ford/Dole ticket was derisively called, "Bozo and the Pineapple".

The list goes on, but I think the point is sufficiently made. Election nastiness has been present throughout American history. It hasn't lead to our national downfall yet, and the current crop is actually pretty mild by historical standards. So why not stop hyperventilating over imagined dog whistles for racists and appreciate for a moment the fact that, for the first time ever, a black man is in a position to be treated exactly like every previous presidential candidate in history?