This year’s midterm elections are dominated by racist, misogynistic, and anti-immigrant mudslinging that may sink lower than the lows set in the 2016 presidential race. There is even speculation that we’re witnessing the dirtiest political cycle in the history of the country.
Are we really? Hurling half-truths, innuendo and manure at political opponents is an accepted tradition. Here are a few examples from past election cycles.
Thomas Jefferson’s 1803 presidential campaign was dominated by stories of his children fathered with his slave, Sally Hemmings. Jefferson never responded and his silence allowed his supporters to deny the self-evident truth. (His meticulous records for Monticello plantation prove he was the father.)
Misogyny and east coast elitism played a part in the bigamy allegations against Andrew Jackson and his wife Rachel. Their first marriage ceremony predated her divorce from her first husband. The oversight was remedied long before Jackson ran for president but that didn’t stop his political opponents.
In the 1850’s, politicians occasionally took time out from arguing about slavery to argue that no more Irish should be allowed in the country. In the 1890’s, every politician who pledged to strip Chinese immigrants of American citizenship and civil liberties got elected. In the 1930’s, Father Coughlin used his weekly radio show to support politicians who agreed with his virulent anti-Semitism.
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt had an early electoral success driving around in a car with a giant teapot strapped to the roof. Their political opponent was distantly connected to the Teapot Dome Scandal (a bribery scandal during Warren G. Harding’s presidency) but never overcame the innuendo caused by a giant teapot on a car.
In 1960, many voters were swayed by the argument that the Pope would run the country if a Catholic, John F. Kennedy, was elected president. You’ll hear an echo in the current election cycle arguments that Muslim-Americans shouldn’t be elected because they aren’t “real” or “loyal” Americans.
Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign was famously sunk by one TV commercial which showed a little girl vaporized in a nuclear explosion. Everyone was afraid that his hardline conservatism made him so irrational that he would literally blow up our world.
All of these political dirty tricks were amplified by the partisan press. Until recently, every city and most towns had at least two local newspapers which represented the major political parties. The conservatives read “their’ newspapers much as they now watch Fox News. The progressives and liberals subscribed to “their” newspapers and today they watch CNN or MSNBC.
Obviously we, the voters, like this trash because it sells lots of advertising and air time. If we really hated the negativity and falsehoods, we wouldn’t tune in to the pundits blathering on Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC and we wouldn’t vote for the politicians pedaling this manure.
But thinking about issues is not easy. The News Hour on PBS features politicians having a rational discussion about the effect a trade war will have on the economy or the trade-offs needed to support today’s retirees while also preserving resources for future retirees. Few people tune in on a regular basis. It’s so much easier to consume dirt in 30-second sound bites. That’s the worst dirt of the election cycle.
About Norma Shirk
My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy. To read my musings on the wacky world of HR, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) and on history, see History According to Norma (www.normashirk.com) which publish on alternate Wednesday mornings. To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).
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