Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Political Mud-Slinging, an Old American Tradition

This may come as a shock to you, but hurling insults at political opponents is as old as our Republic itself. Libby Copeland of the Washington Post gives some choice examples in "Stuck in the Muck."

Thomas Jefferson was attacked by ministers who accused him of being an "infidel" and an "unbeliever." A Federalist cartoon depicted him as a drunken anarchist, and the president of Yale warned that if Jefferson came to power, "we may see our wives and daughters the victims of legal prostitution." A Connecticut newspaper warned that his election would mean "murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will openly be taught and practiced" -- though the paper, which is now the Hartford Courant, did apologize some years later. In 1993. "You turned out to be a good influence on America," the editors wrote. Whoops! Never mind.

"Everybody always assumes there was a golden age of presidential campaigning that occurred 20 years ago," says Gil Troy, an American history scholar at McGill University. "Almost from the start, American politics had its two sides -- it had its Sunday morning high church sermon side, and it had its Saturday night rough-and-tumble ugly side."

Abe Lincoln: According to an 1864 edition of Harper's Weekly, Lincoln was disparaged as a "Filthy Story-Teller," a "Buffoon," a "Usurper," a "Monster" and a "Land-Pirate," whatever that is. His enemies also described him as "A Long, Lean, Lank, Lantern-Jawed, High Cheeked-Boned Spavined Rail-Splitting Stallion," which actually makes Lincoln sound kind of hot, except for the "spavined" part. (We looked it up. It invokes horses with diseased joints, or more generally, decrepitude and decay.)

The article quotes even more examples, including a tract ghost-written for Davy Crockett with some choice words for Andrew Jackson's hand-picked successor, Martin Van Buren.

FactCheck.org documents some of the smears and counter-smears of the two leading presidential candidates.

No comments: