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Kent Conwell: Pristine Politics? No Way!


Last updated 2/22/2012 at Noon

I’m dating myself, but remember when you were in grade school and the class was electing officers? Like most youngsters back then, if your name was in nomination, you probably always voted for your opponent.

That’s the way it was done back in the days before Super PACs and the nine gods on the Supreme Court. Today’s elections don’t cover issues as much as they do the trash in a candidate’s life.

He’s a Fascist; he’s a communist; he’s an adulterer; he’s too religious; he’s a bigot; he’s a racist; and much, much worse. Obviously, candidates today believe the only way they can win election is by trampling the good name of an opponent, even if the accusation is or is not true.

Herman Cain comes to mind as does many others. Heck, just recently, accusations have been hurled at JFK for indiscretions almost fifty years old.

It’s like we’re saying, “To heck with issues, let’s sling mud, and lots of it.”

But before you lay a gypsy curse on the modern political system, take a look at the political bloodbaths during past campaigns.

In 1800, Thomas Jefferson accused the sitting president, John Adams of being a “repulsive pedant” and a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

Davy Crockett claimed that Martin Van Buren wore women’s corsets. Makes you wonder how old Davy knew that little tidbit.

And poor old James Buchanan who had a congenital condition that tilted his head to the left was accused of attempting, but failing to hang himself.

Even Abraham Lincoln caught his share of the mud when he was accused of the dastardly deed of having “stinky” feet.

One of the most vehement in my estimation was between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. To the latter’s chagrin after a bitterly fought campaign, Adams won the presidency in the House of Representatives in 1824.

Even before the inauguration, Jackson and his supporters set out to destroy Adams.

Seems like Adams was the secretary to the American envoy to Russia when he was a teenager. Jackson’s supporters spread the rumor that Adams, while in Russia, had procured American girls for the sexual services of the Russian czar. They even called Adams a pimp and that procuring women was the reason for his great success as a diplomat.

He was also accused of having a billiard table in the White House and allegedly charging the government for it. He produced receipts that he had paid for it himself out of his own funds.

Adam’s supporters were every bit as vicious as Jackson’s, attacking his wife Rachel as a bigamist who deserted her husband to live in sin with Jackson.

Jackson explained that they thought the divorce was finalized, but they were vilified nevertheless.

And then there was a Whig effort in 1844 to discredit Democrat James Polk by claiming Polk’s slaves were branded with his initials. It was untrue of course, but the accusations did cut into his votes. Topping that dirty tactic, the Whigs printed up phony ballot on which the names of Democratic and Whig electors were mixed up so to confuse the voters.

After the Civil War, dirty tricks became even more malicious and insidious. 'The Truth’, a New York scandal sheet published a letter James Garfield had supposedly written endorsing the right of corporations to hire the cheapest labor available, obviously taking advantage of great influx of Chinese labor at the time.

He answered the forged attempt to disenfranchise the middle and lower classes by releasing an example of his own cursive script, proving the published letter was a forgery.

The Twentieth Century must have ushered in the “rodent era” for in 1912, Teddy Roosevelt, decked out in a sombrero and smoking a cigar, referred to William Howard Taft, the current president and his former vice-president as “a rat in a corner.”

Some years later, Franklin D. Roosevelt picked up on Teddy’s gambit by calling Alf Landon, his 1936 opponent “The White Mouse who want to live in the White House.”

Seems like in the last few decades, the media has taken more of a hand in ferreting out “sensational truths” in the name of investigative reporting.

One such hatchet job was done on John McCain in 2000 when the New York Times released a story that accused McCain of a romantic liaison with a woman lobbyist thirty years younger than him.

During the recent South Carolina primary, phony emails made to appear from CNN (they did not) reported that Newt Gingrich had pressured his ex-wife, Marianne, to have an abortion.

Whoever was responsible must have been the jerk who sent out flyers alleging that Rick Santorum’s wife had once had a relationship with a doctor who performed abortions.

The list goes on and on.

And the seeming anonymity offered by the Internet offers encouragement to those sickos, who might be surprised to learn that everything that goes through your computer stays there, even if you delete it.

So if you’re one of those brain-dead reprobates who thrive on slandering others, and decide you want to hide the evidence, then you’re only hope is to make the platters on your drive unspinnable.

That, you can figure out yourself.


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