We are embroiled in what many say is the nastiest political campaign in years. Sadly, what was once reserved for the national level has spilled down to our state races as well.
But, as students of history will tell us, this is really nothing new. The presidential campaign of 1828 may hold the record as the dirtiest one ever.
It pitted incumbent John Quincy Adams, who was what we today would call a Democrat, against Andrew Jackson, the equivalent of a modern Republican. Adams had narrowly defeated Jackson in 1824 and Jackson was out for blood.
Adams’ camp accused Jackson of having a violent temper, being a murderer (he killed a man in a duel and ordered the execution of men under his command during the War of 1812) and being an adulterer (they said his wife never really ended a previous marriage before being wed to Jackson).
Jackson’s followers charged that Adams was corrupt and of federal government overreach (sound familiar?).
Certainly, if there had been such thing as email servers at the time, that would have been an issue as well.
Jackson was the “man of the people” and won easily, but the battle took its toll. His wife died before he took office and he blamed the stress of the race for her death.
So you see, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
We can even look deeper into the past.
The ancient Greek philosopher Plato said: “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”
In his farewell address in September of 1796, our first President George Washington told the crowd: “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
Warnings of how destructive this can be come from all corners of the political spectrum.
In a 1977 speech, Republican President Ronald Reagan said: “I used to say that politics was the second-oldest profession. I have come to know that it bears a gross similarity to the first.”
In 2006, future President Barack Obama said: “We’ve come to be consumed by a 24-hour, slash-and-burn, negative ad, bickering, small-minded politics that doesn’t move us forward. Sometimes one side is up and the other side is down. But there’s no sense that they are coming together in a common-sense, practical, nonideological way to solve the problems that we face.”
It is easy to get discouraged with the political system as we dodge the mud slinging.
Furthermore, if we rely on only one media source for our information and restrict our political conversations to those only with a shared perspective, it becomes easier for us to get wrapped up in the slinging ourselves.
We must keep open minds and entertain the ideas of those we may not agree with. It is only through this that we can overcome the divisiveness and find the truth which lies somewhere in the middle of all the rhetoric.