By Rebekah Rast -
One was slammed as an atheist and a “mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” And another as a “monarchist who sought to become a king; he was also branded as a fool and a hypocrite.”
Who are they? The presidential candidates of the 1796 race: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
It was this race, the race to decide America’s second president that introduced the usage of insults, political “dirt” and an all-out attack on personalities to the nation’s campaigning process.
Those shocked by the finger pointing and insults as of late, only need to look back to the 1800’s, where this tradition was born and the insults even more appalling.
A recent plea by the President to bring civility to politics brings up some interesting questions as well as some irony. Has civility in politics ever existed in America and is it possible now?
Since America’s leaders and those hoping to become its leaders have been lambasted since the beginning of the 19th century and the trend continues to present day, it is difficult to see the campaign process being any other way.
And even Obama himself, who has called for more civility in politics, is just as guilty as the rest.
It was only three years ago in 2008 that “Republican candidate John McCain has blasted his opponent Democrat Barack Obama as ‘eloquent, but empty’ and ‘a confused leader.’ Obama has countered by attacking McCain as a leader who ‘represents the failed policies of yesterday.’”
Furthermore, after Obama was elected President and the Tea Party Movement began to take shape, a whole new bombardment of libel showed up, coming out of the mouths of America’s elected leaders.
As reported by Americans for Limited Government (ALG), then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then Majority Leader Steny Hoyer attacked the tea party movement in a USA Today Op-ed by writing that their opponents were “un-American.” Also, House of Representatives Member James Clyburn equated the tea parties as a “kind of terrorism.”
The ALG article goes on to bring up a good point, “After subjecting people who have become known as the Tea Party Movement to a constant barrage of name calling and implied threats, these same leaders and their main stream media partners now decry a ‘lack of civility’ in American politics.
“Perhaps they should have thought of that when MSNBC and CNN anchors naughtily giggled and refer to this citizen protest as the ‘teabagger’ movement. Now, that’s civil.”
Both parties in Congress are guilty of defaming their opponents. It is hard to imagine an election campaign without the insults, fighting, accusations (many of which are false) and character bashing.
And it works.
“The truth is many Americans vote based on emotion,” says ALG President Bill Wilson. “If they see a commercial that completely crushes the character of a candidate, it very well might affect their voting at the polls, even if the material used was falsified or taken out of context.”
But every political mastermind already knows the powers of persuasion. After all, Jefferson came back to take the Presidency from Adams in 1800 by hiring a “hatchet man” to dig up further dirt on Adams to use against him.
A call for more civility in politics is a tall order, one that should be initiated by the President, and needs to be followed up by action. Can it be done? It won’t remain a question for long, the 2012 election is right around the corner — and it’s bound to be a contentious one.
Rebekah Rast is a contributing editor at Americans for Limited Government (ALG) News Bureau. You can follow her on Twitter at @RebekahRast.