Nothing New Under The Sun
If you think political dirty tricks began with Tricky Dick, you’re way wrong. George Washington, refused to run for his third term, partly because, “The attacks upon me have been so exaggerated and indecent they should not be directed to a convicted criminal, much less one who has given time, fortune and health to facilitate the founding of this Country.”
One of the most vicious political wars was waged between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, opponents in 1800, and now no one knows how, but a bad one was when a Baltimore newspaper received a ‘truthful’ report of the death of Jefferson at his Monticello home.
With the news traveling ‘by foot’ in those days, it was almost two months later before it was discovered that the death story was a ‘dirty trick’ to keep Jefferson from being elected. Obviously, the trick didn’t work.
Lincoln, so revered today, was maligned in a manner few other aspirants to the high office has ever been. Some of the attacks accused him of being a coward, drunkard, and that his election would bring a deluge of rape, incest and adultery. And name calling reached its apogee (or its opposite) when he was called an ape, fiend, ghoul, knave, lunatic, outlaw and a traitor.
Many presidents have been charged with drunkenness including Grover Cleveland, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant, William Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt, Warren Harding, and George W. Bush. And, with two or three of those names, it just might have been true.
One man, a certain E. P. Cramer, in later history, admitted before an Investigating Committee, that he began the whispering campaign that the later Roosevelt (FDR) was insane, and therefore incompetent. Tag ends of that ‘dirty trick’ still crop up in stories of that era, and FDR, though his, and his wife Eleanor’s personal lives were quite outside conventional codes and standards, were far from being incompetent or insane.
In the hot summer of 1928 when Al Smith was ‘running’ for President, his meetings were made unbearable, and people left in droves, because his opponents bribed men to ‘fire up the winter furnaces to full blast’ pouring heat into the crowded halls where the people were already overcome with the torrid summer weather. And all in the era before air conditioning was even dreamed of.
A century or so ago, and aimed at a more innocent, and far less educated electorate, much guile was used as dirty tricks. Calvin Coolidge told a favorite story which played upon that innocence of our ancestors. One man, running for high office, spread a whispering campaign that his opponent “practice Nepotism, that his sister was a Thespian, that his brother was a Homo Sapient and that he had Matriculated in college.”
And those words, both true and flattering, but unknown to most voters, proved to be the pivotal point in defeating the poor bewildered man against whom they were turned.
John Adams ordered and paid for, out of his own pocket, a Billiard table and accessories. But, due to a bookkeeping error, the bill, was included, but soon corrected, on White House expenses, but Adams, to his dying day, was kept explaining why he had allowed ‘the people’ to pay for his Billiard table. Dirty tricks.
They are a long familiar part of the way we elect officials and as long as people are still human, the dirty tricks will roll along, too. Here are a few we have listened to.
Did Kennedy’s father ‘buy’ his son’s election?? Was Carter an uneducated farmer?? Does Romney have Swiss (untaxable) Bank Accounts?? Did Viet Nam give LBJ huge financial gains?? Did McCain choose Palin for her celebrity appearance to offset both Obama and Hillary Clinton?? Were others paid to hide the problems that later ruined Edward’s entire life as well as his run for the Presidency??
Doesn’t much matter. If it’s not these questions, it will be others, for as long as there are high level political goals, and big money to be made, there will be ‘dirty tricks’.