Campaign 2012 Isn’t the Nastiest, Just the Most Covered
Lara M. Brown, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Villanova University and the author of Jockeying for the American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants. She also served in President William J. Clinton’s administration at the U.S. Department of Education.
Liar. Immoral. Heartless. Weak. Duplicitous. Unfit. Coward. Nuts. Dangerous. Felon. Killer. These epithets are not from the 2012 presidential campaign. They’re merely a few of the more ugly insults and slurs that have colored previous presidential elections.
Joseph Cummins sums it up best: “Probably the only clean election in American history was the first one, in 1789, in which George Washington ran unopposed.”
A few of history’s lowlights:
- In 1876, a Democratic whisper campaign suggested that Republican Rutherford B. Hayes had shot and wounded his own mother in a drunken “fit of insanity.”
- In 1884, the Democrats not only skewered the Republican candidate for his corrupt railroad dealings, but they regularly chanted at party rallies and during parades, “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the Continental liar from the state of Maine.”
- Republicans shot back that Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland was a “lecherous beast” and a “moral leper,” owing to Cleveland’s past of fathering an illegitimate child and then committing the mother (his former mistress) to an insane asylum.
- In 1896, the New York Times, then a supporter of Republican William McKinley’s presidential campaign, published an editorial in late September, which questioned William Jennings Bryan’s sanity. They based their hit piece on an unnamed doctor’s observational diagnosis the Democratic candidate.
- In 1920, the New York Times again came to the aid of a Republican presidential candidate. They helped refute a Democratic whisper
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