‘Tis the season to wipe out your opponent

Published 12:33 am Sunday, August 26, 2012

We have only a few weeks to go before the presidential election and we wonder how the candidates can sleep at night.

 We only hope the winner will govern on a higher level than the campaigns have been. By the time the election is over the citizens will have been ill-informed and distrustful of the nations leadership no matter who wins. Even after the election is over we will still not know if the winner is the most competent to serve or simply the cleverest survivor.

The commentators and reporters say this has been the sleaziest, dirtiest campaign in history but a review of the past presidential elections proves that elections have always brought out the worst in the candidates. George Washington seems to have been given a pass but Adams and Jefferson remained angry at each other for decades after bitter campaigns. Thomas Jefferson was called an atheist, anarchist, coward, trickster, demagogue and mountebank. Adams was labeled egotistical, erratic, eccentric, and jealous by nature.

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Alexander Hamilton was the only one of the five top founding fathers who never became president. Born in the West Indies of parents who were not married, John Adams once described Hamilton as “The bastard son of a Scottish peddler.”the most restless, impatient, artful, indefatigable, and unprincipled intriguer in the United States if not the world.”

Hamilton once called Vice President Aaron Burr “a dangerous man, and one who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government.” As a result Aaron Burr shot and killed him in a duel. In spite of his disadvantages Alexander Hamilton was a soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America’s first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury.

In his book, “Presidential Campaigns,” Paul Boller documents the fact that our election system has not improved. For example, in 1828, when Andrew Jackson opposed John Quincy Adams he was accused of adultery, gambling, cockfighting, bigamy, slave trading, drunkenness, theft, lying, and murder. On the other hand, Adams was accused of having premarital relations with his fiancé, and traveling on Sunday! Jackson apparently won the title of having the most colorful past and won the election. After his election he got even with by firing government workers and replacing them with his own people.

When James Polk ran against Henry Clay he announced that his opponent had broken every one of the ten commandments. Clay responded by describing Mr. Polk as “unimaginative”. Polk won. ( Caution to Obama and Romney: Have you noticed how often the most maligned candidate wins?) Here’s another case in point: When U.S. Grant ran against the great newspaper editor, Horace Greeley, he was described as being a crook, an ignoramus, a drunk, a swindler, and a “utterly depraved horse jockey.” Grant carried 31 of the 37 states.

In 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt ran against Woodrow Wilson he was shot in the chest while campaigning in Illinois. He got up and finished his speech before going to the hospital. Nevertheless Wilson won. In many cases being a hero means very little.

I became involved in politics at eight years of age in 1928 when Catholic Al Smith ran against Herbert Hoover, a Quaker. My father was for Hoover but mother was for Al Smith. Dad handed me a stack of Hoover hand bills and instructed me to deliver them to the houses in the neighborhood. Clearly, Mother did not believe the supporters of Hoover who put out the message that, if Al Smith won, he would annul all protestant marriages! Nor did she believe the crazy rumor that, if Smith were elected, he would extend the Holland Tunnel all the way to Rome. In that election Herbert Hoover won.

How is it that our nation has tolerated character attacks during presidential elections? As voters we seem to hold our respective noses and accept the status quo as unsolvable.

But hold on. What if we apply our traditional Christian principles to by starting a movement that requires every candidate to treat his opponent with respect? The voters could be encouraged to vote against a candidate who fails to do so. He will naturally point out the differences between his views and those of his opponent but be expected to do so in an adult manner. This would mean applying the laws against slander to everyone equally including the floors of both houses of congress.

Apparently politicians can legally lie and distort in the hallowed halls of congress without fear of being held responsible. In a time when the citizenry can tune in and watch congress in action it is no wonder politicians in general and congress in particular are not held in high esteem.

Winston Churchill once opined that our system of government was the worst except for all the other systems. Our nation has endured wars, depressions, natural disasters, failed social experiments and continuous political battles yet we remain the grandest nation in the world. Why? Because our government flows from the citizens up to those who govern and not from those who govern down to us.

The founding fathers based America’s system of government on the Judeo-Christian principle that all are equal because each of us is created in God’s image. As long as we remain true to that principle our nation will continue to flourish. No doubt about it, God is not through with us yet.