In the recent election, we seemed to have been overtaken in an outbreak of nastiness in Presidential politics, and towards the Presidential candidates in general. Depending on our party affiliation and the candidate we support, or if the President has our favor or disfavor, we either go too far, or we criticize others for doing so. It’s hard to be endearing of any President who tramples underfoot the things that are precious to us. This current bucket of nastiness is not new, nor even at unprecedented levels. The things parties have said about the other candidates, the other Presidents, and the things Presidents have said about each other, both as Presidents and candidates are scurrilous. This is as old as the nation.
In 2008, candidate Barack Obama said, “The problem is that the way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children, driving up our national debt from $5 trillion dollars for the first 42 presidents — number 43 added $4 trillion dollars by his lonesome, so that we now have over $9 trillion dollars of debt that we are going to have to pay back — $30,000 for every man, woman and child. That’s irresponsible. It’s unpatriotic.”
Notice that Obama didn’t say “President” Bush, just “Bush.” He also accused him of being “unpatriotic.” He also most likely regrets having said this since it gets resurrected to haunt him from time to time. Obama may have any one of ten thousand reasons why our national debt is as high as it is, but it is what it is, and certainly increased dramatically on his watch; that much is not arguable. When Obama said this, I remember the Republicans getting a bit steamed at the time over the lack of respect shown to the dignity of the Presidential office, but that was to be expected since a resort to the dignity of the office is the place of safe refuge when one wants to appear to be occupying the high ground. While there have been some things said about Obama that I would not have said, would have preferred that others did not say, since I actually respect the dignity of the office, his treatment has been far less heinous than what other Presidents have received at the hands of the opposition, and some even at the hands of their own party. Sometimes, the only way to make your point is through brusque speech. Let’s explore this.
First, let’s acknowledge that the right to free speech is one that our constitution declares already belongs to the people, and it is not a benefice of government. We are allowed to say what we want about any bonehead President, and usually, the bonehead Presidents are the ones that do things I don’t agree with, which transitions to the fact that from time to time, every President will be a bonehead. It’s my right to point this out when I think it’s necessary. It’s the President’s right not to like it, and frequently, his supreme displeasure and my good fortune for him not to be able to do anything about it. I am not required to be decorous, nor is anyone else.
Bush got more than his fair share of scathing, disrespectful comments from his opposition, but most likely none more than his opposition thought were required. I also had a few scurrilous comments about him. To be candid, I thought he frequently displayed the attributes of an idiot, not to actually call him one, but he displayed those attributes, nevertheless. One should take great care in displaying idiotic attributes too often, lest one be actually taken for an idiot. It can happen. It certainly happened to W. More on him later.
The following things have been said by Presidents, by Presidential candidates, Vice-Presidential candidates, or about them. Many of them are reprehensible. Of all the Presidents who had insults hurled their way, I can only think of two in whose cases the insults should be guarded: Andrew Jackson and Richard Nixon. Go too far and Jackson would likely kill you. Nixon would sic the IRS on you. History has been mostly unkind to both of these men, not without reason, though both were great visionaries tainted with sinister designs. Jackson was omniscient in his stance on a National bank becoming too powerful and controlling our economy (think Federal Reserve). Nixon was a foreign policy wizard and set the stage for our exit from Viet Nam. Jackson was too direct to be too complex. Nixon was the soul of complexity, even insisting that his daughters make appointments to see him and that they call him “Mr. President.” Jackson would likely have boxed Nixon’s ears had he heard this for himself.
“Bush is unusually incurious, abnormally intelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically unclutured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things,” said the late Christopher Hitchens.
“George W. Bush is emptiness personified, formed of vacuous phrases to hide his life. He is a picture which the news media, blindfolded and foolish, never broke open. He is being completely handled. He delegates everything, including the fight for his political life. His daddy’s team is fending for him,” said Jane Prettyman.
James Carville gets in two with one stroke, saying, “In the Clinton administration we worried the president would open his zipper. In the Bush administration, they worry the president will open his mouth.”
“The Bush operation reminds me of North Korea. You have a group of insanely loyal, fiercely committed lunatics, devoting their lives to slavish devotion of a moron whose only claim to power is that his father used to run the country. George W. Bush is Kim Jong II with better hair,” some Democrat political operative said.
“This is a guy who could not find oil in Texas,” said Senator Al Franken about George W. Bush.
“He’s probably the least qualified person ever to be nominated by a major party. Yes, he was elected governor of Texas, and before that he ran a baseball team and lost a lot of other people’s money in the oil business. But what has happened in the intervening five years to make people believe that George W. Bush would be a good president? What is his accomplishment? That he’s no longer an obnoxious drunk?” said Ron Reagan, Jr.
“They are ugly people and they behave in ugly ways,” said former NY Governor Mario Cuomo about the Bush administration.
“If he’s a reformer, I’m an astronaut,” said Senator John McCain about George W. Bush.
“I would like to apologize for referring to George W. Bush as a ‘deserter.’ What I meant to say is that George W. Bush is a deserter, an election thief, a drunk driver, a WMD liar and a functional illiterate,” said Michael Moore.
“My dog Millie knows more about foreign affairs than those two bozos,” said George H.W. Bush (41) about Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
In 1992, the Bush (41) campaign put up billboards featuring a photo of Clinton paramour, Gennifer Flowers, with the legend, “And now He wants to screw the country, too.”
The opposition campaigns accused both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush of being draft dodgers.
Then there was 1988’s “Get Out of Jail Free” card mailed to over 400,000 Texas voters that referred to Willie Horton and read “Michael Dukakis is the killer’s best friend and the decent, honest citizen’s worst enemy.”
In 1973, Lyndon Johnson said of Gerald Ford, Nixon’s successor, “Jerry spent too much time playing football without a helmet.”
Congressman John G. Schmitz (R-CA) said, “I didn’t care that Nixon went to China, I was only upset that he came back.”
In 1972, the Nixon campaign put up signs in Florida that read, “Help Muskie in Busing More Children Now.” Edmund Muskie was the Democratic Primary frontrunner at the time. Before New Hampshire’s 1972 primary, the Nixon campaign initiated phones calls at all hours of the night with the callers identifying themselves as African-Americans who had been bused in from Harlem to work on behalf of Muskie.
“He is the candidate of the three A’s: Acid, Amnesty [for draft dodgers], and Abortion,” said Nixon about George McGovern.
1n 1972, the Nixon campaign disclosed that McGovern’s running mate, Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton, had had electric shock treatments for clinical depression. McGovern, after declaring that he would stand by Eagleton, dumped him for Sargent Shriver, after which the Nixon campaign went after McGovern for being indecisive and disloyal.
Harry Truman said, “Lyndon Johnson’s got no guts. He should have run for re-election in 1968. Instead of letting a mob of anti-war protesters run him out of the White House.”
There were the 1964 campaign auto tags that showed a mule passing a cloud of gas that had the legend, “LBJ has spoken.”
There were the 1964 campaign’s Goldwater bumper sticker that read, “In your heart you know he’s right,” that were countered by the Johnson campaign’s bumper sticker that read, “In you heart you know he’s nuts.”
In 1964, the Goldwater campaign published a book entitled, “A Texan Looks at Lyndon: A Study in Illegitimate Power.” This book was filled with nasty stories about Johnson, starting with election fraud and corruption, and ending with political murders and implicating Johnson in the assassination of JFK. In 1988, the Bush (41) campaign would try similar tactics, apparently using a why-reinvent-the-wheel approach.
In 1964, the Johnson campaign produced a children’s coloring book that featured pictures of Goldwater dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes.
“If you didn’t know you were going to be VP a month ago, you’re too dumb to have the office,” said LBJ in 1964 to his own running mate, Sen. Hubert Humphrey, of Minnesota.
Asked if Nixon had participated in any major decisions in his administration, the reply from Dwight Eisenhower was, “If you give me a week, I might think of one.” Ike was not fond of his vice-president.
In the 1960 campaign, Harry Truman said, “If you vote for Nixon, you might go to hell.”
Kennedy’s urban appeal did not extend into the rural areas. After visiting a state fair in South Dakota during the 1960 campaign, Kennedy said after his poor reception, “Well, that’s over. F**k the farmers.”
In 1960, there was the Kennedy campaign ad that had an unflattering photo of Nixon with the caption, “Would You Buy a Used Car from this Man?”
In 1960, Kennedy said, “Nixon is a filthy lying son of a bitch and a very dangerous man.”
In the fifties, Harry Truman said of his successor, “Eisenhower will make Ulysses S. Grant’s scandal-scarred administration look like a model of perfection.”
In 1928, several Protestant ministers told their congregations that if Hoover opponent, the Roman Catholic Alfred E. Smith got elected, all non-Catholic marriages would be annulled and all children of these marriages declared illegitimate; some even declared that anyone who voted for Smith would go straight to hell.
In 1928, in Daytona Beach, FL, the local school board had a note placed in every child’s lunch pail that read: “We must prevent the election of Alfred Smith to the presidency. If he is elected you will not be allowed to read or have a Bible.”
in 1928, the Hoover campaign produced this shameful poem, which some ardent Republican came up with:
When Catholics rule the United States
And the Jew grows a Christian nose on his face
When Pope Pius is head of the Ku Klux Klan
In the land of the United States
Then Al Smith will be our president
And the country not worth a damn.
The Republicans accused Smith of indulging in playing cards, poodle dogs, divorces, novels, evolution, nude art, prize-fighting, greyhound racing, and modernism.
Former President Woodrow Wilson said that President Warren Harding was terse and totally negative. Wilson called him “a fool of a president.”
In 1920, the Warren G. Harding campaign had to suppress evidence of Harding’s extra-marital affairs. His paramour and her entire family were sent on an all-expense-paid tour of Asia. Harding’s brother-in-law, who had married a Catholic, was sent to Europe. Harding’s opponent, Ohio Governor James M. Cox, called Harding, “A dummy, an animated automaton, a marionette.”
A Harding biographer, funded by the opposition, said of Harding, “He was a brilliant politician, shrewd when it came to giving people satisfying emptiness.”
In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt called President William Howard Taft a “puzzlewit and a fathead.” Taft countered by calling Roosevelt an “egotist and a demagogue.”
In the campaign of 1888, the Benjamin Harrison campaign attacked Grover Cleveland about his sex life. Cleveland had married Frances Folsom, the daughter of one of his former law partners, in the White house while president. Folsom was 21, and Cleveland was 49. The Republicans referred to Cleveland as the “Beast of Buffalo” and spread rumors that he beat her. Frances issued a rebuttal saying the Republican claim was nothing but “a foolish campaign ploy without a shadow of foundation.”
In 1884, Republican James G. Blaine, the opponent of Grover Cleveland, was greeted with this campaign slogan, “Blaine, Blaine. James G. Blaine, the Continental liar from the state of Maine.” The Republicans countered with claims that the bachelor Grover Cleveland had fathered a child with a 36 year old widow in 1874. The Blaine campaign said, “The issue is evidently not between two great parties, but between the brothel and the family, between lust and law.” They also said of Cleveland, “We do not believe that the American people will knowingly elect to the Presidency a coarse debaucher who will bring his harlots with him to Washington.” Cleveland was called a “lecherous beast, a moral leper, and an obese nincompoop.” The Republican campaign slogan became, “Ma! Ma! Where’s my Pa?”
President James A. Garfield remarked that he could never decide whether President Ulysses Grant’s imperturbability was proof of his greatness or his stupidity. President Grant said, “Garfield lacks the backbone of an angleworm.”
The campaign of 1876 against Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden was filled with vitriol, and was particularly interesting since Tilden won more than 50% of the popular vote, while Hayes got the majority of electoral votes, with Florida being one of the states where irregularities in the ballot counts held up the declaration of a winner, with the election ultimately being decided in the courts. Sound familiar? Think the Bush/Gore campaigns of 2000.
Tilden issued press releases accusing Hayes of being involved in some of (U.S.) Grant’s scandals. The Tilden campaign accused Hayes of shooting and wounding his own mother “in a fit of insanity” after a night of drinking.
Zachariah Chandler was the head of the Republican Party and Hayes’ campaign manager. The frequently-drunk Chandler extorted money from Republican political appointees holding jobs as a result of the 16 year run of Republican Presidents. He sent a fund-raising letter to every Republican office holder, demanding a donation of 2% of their salary to the Hayes campaign, to be remitted promptly. He warned that the campaign would publish a list of those who did not pay, sending it first to their department heads.
The Hayes campaign said that the bachelor, Tilden, had had numerous affairs with married women. They also said that Tilden had contracted syphilis some years earlier from an Irish prostitute and that the STD had affected his actions and made him a target for blackmailers.
In 1865, Andrew Johnson succeeded to the presidency on the assassination of Lincoln. Most of Johnson’s many, many troubles came from within his own party, though he was labeled as “white trash” by both sides. During Johnson’s impeachment trial, the country nearly erupted into civil war again. The Louisville Leader had a headline which asked, “Are you ready once more to take up the musket?” Iowa promised to send a hundred thousand troops to ensure Johnson’s removal from were he impeached. Indiana promised to send a hundred thousand to counter Iowa, and to keep Johnson in office if he were impeached. Passions were barely held in check.
An Indiana congressman said, “I am in favor of the official death of Andrew Johnson. I am not surprised that one who began his presidential career in drunkenness should end it in crime.” Another congressman said Johnson was “stained with the filth of treason.” Another called him a “despicable, besotted, traitorous man.”
Republicans claimed that the Republican Johnson had conspired with the Lincoln assassins. This tactic would be repeated by Republicans against Democrat Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
In 1860, New Jersey Democrats called Lincoln “the brainless bob-o-link of the prairies.” Former Presidents Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce called him a war-monger and would-be dictator.
In the 1852 presidential campaign, the Whigs accused Democratic Candidate Franklin Pierce of cowardice in the Mexican war. It seems the Pierce had received a very painful wound to the knee, from which he fainted, and had to be carried off the battlefield. He was referred to as “The Fainting General.”
Apparently, General Winfield Scott, 1852’s Whig Candidate, said that Pierce, who had a reputation for drinking excessively, “was the winner of many a hard-fought bottle.”
When President James K. Polk sent troops to Mexico in 1846, young Congressman Abe Lincoln claimed this was “unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced” and was certain that Polk was “deeply conscious of being in the wrong.”
John Qunicy Adams said, “Andrew Jackson is a barbarian who can barely sign his name.” He also said that Martin Van Buren was, ”A player of base and dirty tricks.”
Andrew Jackson said, “I have only two regrets: I didn’t shoot Henry Clay and I didn’t hang John C. Calhoun.”
The election of 1828 was perhaps the nastiest of all. John Quincy Adams lost to Andrew Jackson, after Jackson believed the election was stolen from him in 1824, since it was decided not by popular or electoral vote, but in the House of Representatives. Jackson was determined not to let this happen again, and all the stops were pulled out by both candidates. The Jackson campaign called Adams a pimp. The Adams campaign called Jackson’s wife, Rachel, a slut. A newspaper printed that “General Jackson’s mother was a common prostitute, brought to this country by the British soldiers! She afterward married a mulatto man, with whom she had several children, of which number General Jackson is one!”
During the War of 1812, opposition journalists openly speculated that James Madison had persuaded Congress to do his bidding by pimping his curvaceous and popular wife, Dolley, to congressmen in exchange for their votes.
Aaron Burr, who served a term as Jefferson’s vice president and later had much trouble of his own, much of it resulting from a duel where he killed the popular Alexander Hamilton, and later on a trial for treason, said President James Monroe was so dimwitted that as a lawyer he had never won a case that paid more than $5.00.
Thomas Jefferson’s supporters said of John Adams, “He has a hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Adams supporters countered by stating, “Jefferson is a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” Each side upped the ante, The Jefferson camp saying that Adams was a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant; the Adams camp saying Jefferson was a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward.
Even Martha Washington said, “Jefferson is one of the most detestable of mankind.”
Thomas Jefferson hired a man names James Callendar to do his dirty work for him. Even though libel is extremely difficult to prove in a court of law, Callendar was charged with libel against Adams, was convicted, and served a prison sentence. After his release from prison, Callendar felt that Jefferson still owed him a debt, but Jefferson wanted nothing more to do with him. It was Callendar who subsequently broke the story of Jefferson’s relationship with his slave Sally Hemmings, which later DNA evidence would indicate was not nearly so much of a fabrication as Jefferson declared.
President John Adams, upon his defeat, accused Thomas Jefferson of having a mean thirst for popularity, an inordinate ambition and a want of sincerity. Adams told of various calamities that Jefferson’s policies would inflict on the country.
Thomas Jefferson was enraged by George Washington’s lack of support for the French Revolution, stating that Washington was “a Samson who had allowed himself to be shorn by the harlot, England.”
Jefferson Henchman, James Callendar, offered a public toast for “the speedy death of President Washington,” which is about as low and as early as one can get in the history of the nation.
I suppose, having considered all this, things are not so out of whack after all. Isn’t that good to know? I wish a good, old-fashioned fistfight would break out in the White House, or on the floor of the House or Senate, just like in the good old days. I’d like to see Chuck Schumer duke it out with Lindsey Graham, or perhaps Nancy Pelosi and Michelle Bachmann in a cat fight, complete with undeleted expletives.