It was a nasty race and it kept getting nastier. Four years prior the challenger had to lost to the incumbent. He spent those years publicly stewing over the “corrupt bargain” that had cost him the office.
When the rematch came around the challenger held nothing back. He and his allies called the incumbent a gambler and even a “pimp.” They called his wife a tramp for good measure.
The incumbent and his allies retorted that challenger was a polygamist and a war criminal. One advertisement warned voters that if the hotheaded challenger won he would start randomly hanging people.
Did this grudge match symbolizing the decay of American political culture happen in some backwoods hellhole or decaying inner city?
No, this was the 1828 race for the presidency between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams. Jackson won and Adams, to spite him, refused to take part in the inauguration.
IT’S ONE OF THE many stories told in David Mark’s engaging history Going Dirty: The Art of Negative Campaigning. The book actually came out in 2006, but in the wake of the current primary season it has a certain renewed relevance, shall we say.
Namely, that people who hope for purely high-minded debates over holding public office are naive in the extreme. Running for office is an inherently grubby business and always has been. Why should we expect a fight over political power to be anything but?
Mark, a former editor in chief of Campaigns & Elections and a current senior editor at the Politico, takes it a step further even. Negative campaigning, he says, is a good thing and we need more of it.
“[D]espite claims that negative campaigning turns voters off, it’s the most partisan races that often bring more people to the polls. The 2004 presidential campaign, one of the most heated in recent memory, produced a voter turnout of roughly 60 percent, the highest in 36 years,” Mark writes.
His other point is that negative ads and similar tactics are often the only way voters will hear about the unflattering aspects of a candidate’s record. The candidate certainly isn’t going to bring these things up.
Mostly though, Going Dirty is a goldmine of great historical nuggets. Mark recounts how California Gov. Pat Brown in 1966 was the first to use the tactic of interfering in the other party’s primary. The Democratic governor leaked information damaging to one candidate in the hopes the GOP would back another, weaker candidate. It turned out to be Ronald Reagan’s first political break.
He describes exactly how Lyndon Johnson’s famous “Daisy” ad created the concept of free media. The literally apocalyptic spot aired only once on Johnson’s dime but was replayed endlessly by network news programs.
Or how about Jesse Helms’s legendary reelection bids? Those pioneered the use of ads featuring grainy black and white footage, sinister music and sharp editing to make his opponents look as though they were just caught in an undercover police anti-child porn sting.
“For a politician so many considered a throwback to an earlier era…Helms’ campaigns consistently used cutting-edge technological and marketing techniques,” Mark notes.
Democrats howled at the time. By the 1990s they were using the same tactics against New Gingrich and Bob Dole.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?