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THE DIRTIEST CAMPAIGN EVER?
By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
. . . And so continues the dirtiest and most vitriolic political campaign in history – or so the mainstream media would have you believe.
. . . What I want to know is: What rock have they been living under? Have they ever covered a political campaign before? By any standard, the contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has been one of the most civilized in our lifetime.
Of course, both candidates have emphasized differences between them. That’s what campaigns are all about. Obama says Clinton’s vote authorizing the use of force in Iraq means she can’t be trusted to make other foreign policy decisions. Clinton says Obama doesn’t have enough experience to govern from day one, especially when the phone rings at 3 a.m. Tough? Maybe. But nasty? No way. Those are legitimate issues.
. . . In the 1800 presidential campaign, as David McCullough recounts in his masterful biography of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson paid James Callender to vilify his opponent. In a campaign booklet, Callender called Adams a “repulsive pedant,” a “gross hypocrite,” and “in his private life, one of the most egregious fools upon the continent.” Not only that, Callender portrayed Adams as a “hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
Shown proofs of the campaign pamphlet, Jefferson assured Callender: “Such papers cannot fail to produce the best effects.” But Adams gave as well as he took, allowing Yale president Rev. Timothy Wright to warn what would happen were “atheist” Thomas Jefferson elected president: “The Bible will be burned, the French ‘Marseillaise’ will be sung in Christian churches and we may see our wives and daughters the victims of legal prostitution; soberly dishonored; speciously polluted.”
And these were our Founding Fathers!
Politics weren’t much gentler in President Lincoln’s day. In her excellent book, “Dirty Politics,” Kathleen Hall Jamieson recounts the terms used to describe candidate Abe Lincoln: “filthy story teller, despot, liar, thief, braggart, buffoon, usurper, monster, Ignoramus Abe, old scoundrel, perjurer, robber, swindler, tyrant, fiend, butcher, and land-pirate.” Notice that “Honest Abe” wasn’t on the list.
Of course, you don’t have to go that far back to wallow in dirty campaigns. Think 1988 and Lee Atwater’s promising to make Willie Horton “a household name.” Think South Carolina 2000, when George W. Bush’s henchmen accused John McCain of fathering an illegitimate black child (actually, his adopted daughter from Bangladesh). Think Georgia 2002 and ads equating Max Cleland with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Think 2004 and the “Swift Boat” smears against John Kerry.
The truth is, we’ve seen a lot of dirty campaigns, but this isn’t one of them. You can call the 2008 Democratic primary many things. Call it historic. Call it hard-fought. Call it colorful, lively, and long. Just don’t call it dirty.
Bill Press is host of a nationally syndicated radio show and author of a new book, “Trainwreck: The End of the Conservative Revolution (and Not a Moment Too Soon).” You can hear “The Bill Press Show” at his Web site: billpressshow.com. His email address is: email@example.com.
Drew: ‘In 1980 Ronald Reagan won the election with one simple question: ‘Are you better off today than you were four years ago?’ The answer then, as it would be for most today if asked the same question, was a resounding ‘NO!’ Since 2000, my income has pretty much been stagnant, my expenses have skyrocketed, and the credit card companies have been given free rein to jack up my interest rates however much they please, and for whatever reason, if any. However, what’s worse than my not being better off is the fact that the country as a whole is in much worse shape. I’ve been voting since 1977, and I can count the times I’ve voted for a Democrat on one hand, with a finger or two to spare. I don’t care who the Democrat nominee is this year, I’m voting for him or her. Tell the DNC to keep playing that commercial, and to make more like them.’
Rick Hubbard (Lake Mary, FL): ‘I am a life long republican. I have voted Republican in every election no matter what. I am writing you and every superdelegate I can find to tell that if Hillary is your nominee she will get my vote. The reason, health care! That is it plain and simple. I am an independent business person and pay for a terrible health plan with a huge deductible, huge monthly payments and no prescription benefits. I hope Hillary can finally make a change in our health care system.’
☞ Being enthusiastically neutral between or two amazing candidates, let me quickly note that Barack’s health care plan would also be a huge improvement; and that I’ve gotten pro-Obama emails, as well – like this follow up to yesterday’s debt discussion:
Paul deLespinasse (Corvallis, OR): ‘The data I relied on showed the national debt as of the end of fiscal years, but I have to admit that your numbers prove there actually was a twelve month period [his final year] in which the debt went down. I don’t think I am being partisan about this, being a nearly life-long Republican who has just registered as a Democrat in order to vote for Obama in the Oregon primary on May 20.’