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At some point in every Presidential campaign, someone starts wringing their hands and declares the political rhetoric “toxic” and concludes that this is “the dirtiest campaign in history.”
Which, of course, is a crock. Politics is a dirty business. It thrives on mud, slander, attacks and innuendo.
But this doesn’t stop the pundits from crying about the heated campaign rhetoric between incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney.
Says Chuck Todd of MSNBC:
You thought last week was bad? Just when you thought last week’s third-grade insults were as low as the campaign could go here, here we go again, the campaign has gotten even uglier, It’s not faux outrage, it’s real outrage. Over the last 24 hours, the attacks from both sides have reached a new level of vitriol.
Really Chuck? Did you skip history in college? Here at Capitol Hill Blue we’ve found many campaigns a lot dirtier — and sometimes even fatal.
John Adams running for President against Thomas Jefferson, called his opponent “the father of the mulatto race.”
During another debate, Jefferson brought up questions of Adam’s sexual leanings.
Said Adams: “That, sir, is a topic that gentlemen do not discuss.”
Replied Jefferson: “Sir, if we had gentlemen in government, we would have no place for politics.”
Mudslinging is not limited to Presidential politics.
In his book, “Mudslingers: The Twenty-Five Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time,” author Kevin Swint retells this legendary campaign where the opponent of Florida Sen. Claude Pepper had this to say:
Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, he has a brother who is a known homo sapien, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage habitually practiced celibacy.
Pepper lost the election to George Smathers in 1950. Voters told reporters that they weren’t quiet sure words like “extrovert” and “nepotism” and “thespian” meant but they were sure they were connected to bad, immoral or illegal activities.
Smathers proved you can’t lose an election by underestimating the intelligence of the average American voter — a political truism that controls the campaign system even more today. The tea party proves that.
America’s political system has its roots in England’s raucous governmental heritage where insults are the order of the day. Few political rivalries in history matched the acrimony between two members of the British Parliament: William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli.
In one debate, Gladstone told Disraeli: “You, sir, shall die on the gallows or of venereal disease.”
Replied Disraeli: “That, sir, depends on whether I embrace your principles…or your mistress.”
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill despised his predecessor Neville Chamberlain. At a public gathering, a woman told Churchill that she had met both he and Chamberlain and considered Chamberlain a “man of much greater humility.”
“And you should,” Churchill replied. “He has so much more to be humble about.”
And before anyone claims American politics today is nastier than dares of yore let’s remember that political rivals Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr settled their differences in 1804 in a duel in Weekhawken, New Jersey.
Hamilton lost the duel — and his life — even though he fired first. Burr returned fire and his musket ball hit Hamilton in the lower abdomen. He died the next day.
Burr, charged with murder, fled to South Carolina, but never went to trial on the charges and returned to Washington to finish out his term as Vice President under Jefferson. He would later be charged with treason for trying to create a new country from the Louisiana Territory but was acquitted and finished out his life in another profession that welcomes scoundrels and crooks. He was a lawyer.
Of course, given the contenders in this year’s Presidential contest, a duel is out of the question.
Odds are, neither one of them can shoot worth a damn.