Politics is a dirty business

Jim Carville, the Democratic political consultant who cashed in years ago to become a walking and talking caricature of himself, called New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson a “Judas” over the weekend because the one-time Presidential candidate and former Bill Clinton appointee had the gall to endorse Barack Obama for the party’s Presidential nomination.

Over in the Obama camp, a retired general compared Bill Clinton to Joe McCarthy because the former President suggested that only his wife and presumptive Republican nominee John McCain love their country.

Strap in boys and girls. The dirt is flying and everybody gets smeared.

Politics is a dirty business and the goal is to win at any cost. That means each side will throw generous amounts of mud at their opponents, hope some of it sticks, and then claim they are clean while everyone else is not.

The emails that float in over our electronic transom daily decry the “gutter” level of politics but such cries of anguish forget that political contests have long been endless exercises of insults, taunts and mud.

When Alexander Hamilton squared off against Thomas Jefferson in a bitter and contentious race for President, Hamilton told Jefferson in a debate that “while President Washington was the father of our great nation, you sir are the father of the mulatto race.”

In another debate, Jefferson brought up some unpleasant rumors about Hamilton’s sexual preferences and Hamilton snapped: “That sir is a topic that gentlemen do not discuss.”

Replied Jefferson: “Sir, if we had gentleman in government we would have no place for politics.”

The English long ago perfected the art of dirty politics.

British political leaders Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone hated each other — personally, professionally and politically.

An example during a debate in Parliament:

Gladstone: “You sir, shall die on the gallows or of venereal disease.”

Disreali: “That, sir, depends on whether I embrace your principles…or your mistress.”

I’d like to sit here and claim that I, as a journalist, am above such dirty tricks.

Sadly, I cannot. In the 1980s, I took a break from journalism and crossed over to the dark side of politics, working in a number of campaigns. My first came in 1982 when legendary political consultant Eddie Mahe offered a job to work on the re-election campaign of Congressman Manuel Lujan Jr. of New Mexico.

Lujan came close to losing his seat in 1980, eking out a 50.1 percent win over political newcomer Bill Richardson (yes, the same Bill Richardson who is now governor). Mahe’s instructions were simple: “This is going to be a tough campaign,” he said. “Do what it takes to win.”

In researching past campaigns, we discovered that Lujan — whose family settled in New Mexico in the 1600s — had never carried the Spanish speaking South Valley of Albuquerue. The Valley was heavily Mexican and they voted a straight Democratic ticket. Polls showed that many thought Lujan was a Democrat.

Jan Hartke, New Mexico’s state treasurer and son of former Indiana Senator Vance Hartke, opposed Lujan in 1982. Polls showed him ahead of the incumbent. The blond-haired, handsome Hartke built a strong campaign. Past election results said the South Valley vote could make the difference.

So, on the weekend before the election, residents of the South Valley woke up to find cards hanging on their door. A photo of Hartke graced the front with the question: “How do you say ‘Hartke’ in Spanish?” On the flip side, the answer said: “Gringo,” followed by detailed instructions, in Spanish, on how to cross over and pull the lever for Lujan in the voting booth. The card didn’t ask them to vote for any other Republicans on the ballot — just Lujan.

Hartke claimed the stunt was dirty politics but the disclaimer on the card said it was an independent effort paid for by a city car dealer and the Lujan campaign disavowed all knowledge of the event. The Albuquerque media had a policy in those days of not giving news coverage to any last minute attacks or claims so the issue never made the papers or the local newscasts.

Lujan carried the South Valley and the election. Hartke, deep in debt, left New Mexico and moved to the Washington area to practice law with his brother. Lujan served in Congress until his retirement in 1988 and later became Interior Secretary. I went on to work in other campaigns, then spent five years running the largest political action committee in the country (for the National Association of Realtors) before returning to journalism.

Stashed away in a box in a storage area of our home is a collection of materials from the New Mexico campaign, including a faded yellow legal pad with a drawing of the door card for that last minute stunt to sway the voters of the South Valley of Albuquerque — part of a plan that I laid out in a motel room two weeks before the election and handed to that car dealer.

Today, 26 years later, I look back on that period with neither pride nor satisfaction. Like so many who worked in politics then and do so now — I simply checked my ethics at the door and did what it took to win.


  1. Dr.D

    Seal,While I totally agree with your assessment of the subject at hand,I would like to point out that whether a person uses a pseudonym or not in this day and age,posting your real name or not is a moot point.If someone is looking for you,present day technology dictates that you will be found whether you like it or not.It sucks,but it’s true. Ed

  2. ekaton

    There is no privacy. If “the authorities” want someone it will be impossible to hide behind a screen name. But yes, I see your point. Too late now, though.

    — Kent Shaw

  3. SEAL

    This contention that unless someone uses their real given name to post on the Internet that what they have to say should be discounted or that they have some subversive agenda is a bullying tactic born of paranoia or a superiority complex and should be ignored.

    There are many good reasons why some people choose not to use their real names. Ex-wives hiding and afraid of ex-husbands comes to mind.

    Some people just think it is none of your damn business unless and until they get to know you. What is wrong with that?

    For some people it would be dangerous. I happen to be one of them. In fact, I was strongly advised not to use my name when I informed them I was going to begin posting and we clarifyed the nature of what I should and could not say.

    Every time someone brings this up, I take it as a personal affront. But I always find out that they raise it because of some personal issues they have with another party and are trying to belittle them or “flush” them out, forcing their personal agendas upon the uninvolved people of the forum they are in. That is a total lack of respect for those people and must be so noted.

    If you have a personal problem with someone, take it private and don’t bother me with the damn thing. What makes you think you are so important that I should involve myself in your personal problem?

  4. SEAL

    Douglas Kent Shaw
    104 Wyncote Court
    Mechanicsburg PA 17055

    And, Kent, why would you want to post this information on the Internet?

    Do you like living dangerously?

    And have you allowed yourself to be unwisely motivated to reveal such information by a highly suspect declaration. TOP SECRET? I’m not calling anyone a liar but think about that.

  5. Dr.D

    It’s o.k.Sandra,no harm no foul.I’m sure that as you read my opinions you will see without a doubt that I am definitely not a religious person.Moral yes,pious absolutely not.And my moniker may be the same as his,but what it signifies is totally different,believe me!Now what were we talking about?

  6. Sandra Price

    Dr.D. We had am Evangelical man here that ran many of the posters off of Reader Rant. He was Doctor Doom. After he left I kept up corresponding with him as he never used his Christian faith as a threat to others. I thought may you were the Dr. Doom…..He was always polite to me but he never considered me a threat either. His firm conviction and faith in J.C. was all he needed. Others like Flapsaddle are here to discredit my words. They are obviously threatened by my political points of view.

    I do tend to jump when I see your name as many in my family referred to my husband as Dr.P. I try to take CHB
    seriously but the games people play are not worth the effort for me to stay long.

  7. Dr.D

    Well T.J,I always sign “Ed” on my personal correspondences anyway,and often sign my posts on threads like this as a force of habit,so if it makes Sandra happy,so be it. Ed

  8. Flapsaddle

    Why bother to change, Dr. D/Ed?

    Were you less believable posting under your nickname than you will be under you real given name? Your posts will speak the truth, not your handle.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  9. Dr.D

    O.K.Sandra,I personally don’t have any objections about using my real name on any forums that I participate in,but I do use the screen name Dr.D on sites where a screen name is customary.My real name is Ed Davis and I live in upstate NY,and from now on I will sign off as “Ed”. O.K.? btw,I am not a doctor. Dr.D is a nickname given to me a long time ago. Ed

  10. Flapsaddle

    A nom de plume is not without an honorable history in American political discourse.

    Prior to and during or Revolutionary War, many letters and articles were published under such names as “Pacificus”, “Mercurius”, “Spartacus”, etc.. Prior to the adoption of the Constitution, many of what are called the “Federalist Papers” – actually written by Madison, Hamilton and Jay – were published under the pseudonym “Publius”. In our modern era, others have done the same thing, notably George Kennan – “X” – in Foreign Affairs (1947) on the best way to contain the Soviet Union. Many popular writers have published under various names – Robert Heinlein, Steven King and Charles Dodgson, for example – without loss of credibility.

    I know of several writers, here at CHB and elsewhere, who post under pseudonyms; however, it is the quality and the consistency of their work that holds interest for me – not the distraction of what might be their real name and why they choose not to use it. If the writer’s presentation is factual, logical and well-written, I see no reason to discount it because s/he is indulging in a bit of personal license.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  11. ekaton

    “From the mid 1950s I have had top secret clearances through the DoD … ”

    Why would you want to let the world know this? You like living dangerously?

    Douglas Kent Shaw
    104 Wyncote Court
    Mechanicsburg PA 17055

  12. ekaton

    Political parties are nothing more than privately owned businesses with the mission of electing candidates that will support the other private businesses that support the political parties. There is no place for political parties in a republic. Political parties are dangerous entities having only the best interest of the party in mind. The best interests of the population at large do not matter. Currently both Republicans and Democrats are wholly owned subsidiaries of the Military Industrial Complex. So. To the MIC, every problem looks like a nail, so they sell us million dollar hammers (missles, bombs, etc.) and encourage their use. As Reverend Wright told us, the chickens are coming home to roost. But then you probably never heard that part of his sermon. All you were shown was “God damn America.”

    — Kent Shaw

  13. Sandra Price

    I dislike reading several replies to the words of others and am disgusted when two people use the name non-name. It pretty much waters down the words when I know that two people are responsible. From the mid 1950s I have had top secret clearances through the DoD and there is no reason for me not using my own name. I’m listed all over Google and my commentaries are picked up from my website and spread all over the ‘net. I have nothing to hide as I speak clearly of my own points of view.

    We were told during Clinton’s terms that the White House did read into CHB and it bothered few here. But since the 90s a very nasty element has entered into the sites and forums. We have gang wars of people trying to discredit the words of others. Naturally they use phony names.

    It removes the subject of discussion when it is written by anyone who is afraid to be recognized. It is a form of cowardly behavior. It certainly takes the honesty out of sharing opinions. I would never want it mandated that we must use our own names or even our emails. But it cuts the sincerity of the words. I have made my share of enemies online and instead of debating with me then venture to other sites and use phony names and then whine about what is wrong with America. Cowards are what is wrong with America.

  14. Dr.D

    Yep,His writing style is boring as hell too,it took me what seemed like forever to finish that book.But his investigative work was 1st class,and it was well worth the read.G.Edward Griffins’ “Creature from Jekyll Island”was the same way.I guess that the boring nature of the subject matter has alot to do with it.

  15. Flapsaddle

    Ruppert was behind the times in characterizing the nature of the two major parties. I think that any reasonably observant person would have come to the same conclusion much earlier.

    We do not have two parties, we really have only one, but it has two halves that try their best to present themselves as being distinctly different and not joined at the hip. The last election should have given the Democrat half of the beast a chance to prove that it was somehow different; however, all it did was change the feeding order of the hogs at the trough.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  16. Dr.D

    It’s refreshing to see such a polite discourse evolve over such potentially divisive subject matter.Having said that,I have personally evolved over the last few years myself,I have come to realize that the present 2 party system is ruining this country bit by bit.It just seems to me that the system all by itself creates a polarizing atmosphere that may very well be deliberately engineered with the sole purpose of causing partisan squabbling,the results of which only serves to aid in the cause of the unseen engineers.The author of”Crossing the Rubicon”,Michael Ruppert,had a great analogy about this theory,He equated the Republicans with the Gambino crime family and the Democrats with the Bonnanos’,which would make us the sheep getting sheared for protection money.It would be funny if it weren’t true.

  17. pollchecker

    Doug, as I have been watching HBO’s series on John Adams, the thought has occured to me on several occasions, how the nature of politics hasn’t changed much in over 230 plus years.

    So I ask myself what is the difference between the politics of past eras and politics of today. The answer that I came up with is civility and this attitude of win at all costs which your article refers to.

    I am very glad that the politicians of the past were involved because they cared about higher issues for the good of all its citizens and not about just being right for the sake of winning.

    That is where we are today. I’m not sure what would motivate anyone today to be involved in politics except for power and money. And both of these are known corrupters of mankind throughout history.

    In the REAL WORLD, people of all different political persuasions come together everyday and live, work, play together for the common good. We unite in looking for better ways to make our neighborhoods safer, our schools better, our cities stronger….etc.

    Chuck Hagel has been a politician who perhaps started out in politics because he believed in service to his country. After all, he too, served in Vietnam. (McCain is not the only Senator with a lock on the Vietnam vet title, as you know). He is resigning from Congress along with many other Republicans because he has seen the polarizing stalemate in the Congress.

    Now I’m sure this is nothing new. In fact, I know its not. There have been many stalemates in govt since Senator Hagel first took office over 20 years ago and then before. But somehow Congress always worked through it. Politicians found a way to find a common point of agreement and then create a win-win-win situation for the good of the country.

    It has only been in the past decade that the polarizing and disgustingly dirty politics of a few, have tained the entire barrel.

    Remember how they cast GW as the compassionate conservative? Looking back on that now, what a joke on the American people. There is no civility, no accountability, no responsibility by the very people who would hold others to a higher level. Perhaps that is the BIG difference in poltics today. It’s not the dirty little tricks so much. It’s not the heated debates on differences in policies. No I think it is the HYPOCRISY of all the candidates, of all the poiticians that is really what disgusts people most of all today. In fact, it disgusts most REAL people so much that as a result they tune out and don’t see much real differences between the parties or the candidates.

    This is dangerous because it sets up a voting population that votes strictly from emotional ignorance rather than informed decision making. As a result, we end up with the Genuises of Propaganda (GOP experts like Karl Rove) manipulating the election results like we saw in 2004 with irrellevant emotional issues that the govt has no place involved in to begin with.