Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


Brad K. Berner: Campaign Calumny

Campaign Calumny


By Brad K. Berner

“Mrs. President, infidel, old, querulous, mean-spirited” – the calumny of today’s campaigns? Hardly, it was the campaign of 1800, with Thomas Jefferson defeating the incumbent John Adams on the 36th ballot in the House of Representatives in one of the nastiest campaigns ever. So, if the contemporary mudslinging leaves you, the voter, frequently yearning for the respectable campaigns of the ‘good old days’, think again.

Campaigns were simpler once. During George Washington’s first unopposed victorious campaign there were no conventions, no open campaigning, and no political parties. Even voting was simpler as state legislatures voted for ‘electors’ to select the president. Nevertheless, only 69 of the 73 electors showed up for the final tally. One had missed due to gout, another due to icy rivers, and three states - North Carolina, Rhode Island, and New York – hadn’t even participated.

Simpler, however, hasn’t always meant better; for, although improbable, cacophonous campaign music was worse. Two fortunately forgotten political classics - “Little Wat Ye What’s a-Comin” and “The Hard Cider Quick Step” - assaulted the minds and ears of voters in the 1828 and 1840 campaigns. Fortuitously for the beginning of future sporting events, in 1816, when the victorious James Monroe made his only public campaign statement by writing a letter accepting the nomination, Republicans had begun singing Francis Scott Key’s poem to the tune of an old English drinking song, resulting in "The Star Spangled Banner.”

Historically, American politicians have accused each other of anything and everything. Based on the rumor that he had procured an American girl for the Czar of Russia, John Quincy Adams was branded “the Pimp”, while Martin Van Buren was accused of wearing corsets and taking more baths than a real man should. Vilified as a “murderer and adulterer,” Andrew Jackson underwent his mother being called a “COMMON PROSTITUTE, brought to this country by the British soldiers!” Later, Ulysses S. Grant was defamed as “the Drunkard, the Butcher, the Dummy, the Great Loafer, Swindler, Ignoramus, and an utterly depraved horse jockey.”

More modern day recipients have included Grover Cleveland, castigated by the president of Amherst College as a “coarse debauchee who would bring harlots to Washington,” and William H. Taft, labeled by Theodore Roosevelt as “a fat head who has an intellect a little short of a guinea pig.” Later, Warren Harding sallied into print as a “platitudinous jellyfish” and Harry Truman as a “Missouri Jackass.”

Not even our national icons have been exempt. Abraham Lincoln was pummeled as “the Big Baboon, the Slave Hound of Illinois, and the Illinois Ape,” and Franklin D. Roosevelt was maligned as “feather duster, Frankenstein D. Roosevelt, the corkscrew candidate, Little Lord Fauntleroy, an amiable Boy Scout, warmonger/appeaser, and Dr. Jekyll of Hyde Park.” Even Thomas Jefferson was not spared as the campaign of 1800 heated up.

By 1800 the newly created political parties - the Federalists and Republicans - had separate drinking taverns and partisan presses. Because John Adams, the incumbent, had lost most of his teeth, and Thomas Jefferson, the Republican candidate, didn’t like to speak in public, there were few public speeches; nevertheless, the highly vocal partisan presses more than made up for their silence.

Adams was labeled “a mere old woman and unfit to be President.” The Republican Aurora newspaper called him the “old, querulous, bald, blind, crippled, toothless Adams”, while the Massachusetts Centinal christened him the “lawless lust of Pow’r in embryo” and “the first spawn of hell.” Republican rumors abounded that Adams planned to marry one of his sons to a daughter of George III in order to start an American dynasty, and that he had sent Thomas Pinckney (his running mate in 1796) to England to procure four pretty girls as mistresses for them both. Adams’ wife, Abigail, was assailed as “Mrs. President” for her supposed dominance over him. However, there were limits. One critic was fined $100 for commenting that the cannon fired in honor of Adams would be better aimed at the president’s pants.

Incredibly, the public pounding that Adams took paled in comparison to that of the victorious Jefferson. The Federalist press labeled him an “atheist, infidel, and Jacobin” and charged that he had copied the Declaration of Independence. The Gazette of the United States headlined: “The Grand Question Stated. God – And A Religious President; Jefferson – And No God!!!” The Connecticut Courant warned readers that if he were elected “murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced.” A Federalist campaign biographical précis stated: “Tom Jefferson…a mean spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father…raised wholly on hoe-cake made of coarse-ground Southern corn, bacon and hominy, with an occasional…fricasseed bull-frog.”

Today’s calumny, based on pandering moralistic sound bites, would surely highlight George Washington’s lack of ‘values’. A land speculator who was contemptuous of lawyers and schoolmasters, Washington knew, used and enjoyed far more profanity than Scripture. Keeping a jug of whisky handy in case of a chill, he advocated no sure cure for the world’s ills and took little if any interest in other people’s private concerns.

So, what is to be done as the campaign calumny escalates? I’m ready with the mute button, comfortable in knowing that statesmen/stateswomen and saints are rare and often mutually exclusive breeds.

*************

Brad K. Berner is a professor at Western International University (Phoenix, Arizona) and Estrella Mountain Community College (Avondale, Arizona). He is the author of The World According to Al Qaeda (2005), Jihad: Bin Laden in His Own Words (2006), and Quotations from Osama bin Laden (2006).

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>

ALSO:

Buildup:

Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>

ALSO:

Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>

ALSO:


Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news