Thursday, April 28, 2011

Remember the Good Old Days of American Politics ....

President Cleveland's bastard son cries for a return to civility
... those days before personal attacks, back when all politics revolved around intelligent, honest, civil debate about the important issues of the day and attacks on a candidate's personal integrity was considered out-of- bounds?

Naw, I don't either.

From day one politics has been a messy, often nasty business. A non-political website called Collector's Weekly took note of this in an illustrated feature whose story is told by way of campaign buttons. (Thanks to Taegan Goddard for linking to it.)

Some are from fairly recent history, with buttons aimed at Bob Dole, Teddy Kennedy, and, of course, Richard Nixon.

And even a candidate's mother isn't considered out-of-bounds, as this vintage anti-Jimmy Carter button proves.

The oldest button shown in this feature concerns FDR's wife Eleanor. But we know political personal attacks go back much further.

Just ask Grover Cleveland, who acknowledged paying child support to a woman, not his wife. Or Abe Lincoln, whose opponents called him the  "ape baboon of the prairie."

And presidential campaign songs, especially in the 1800s, show that the rhetoric rhetoric often went way overboard. As folksinger Oscar Brand documented in his album Presidential Campaign Songs 1789-1996, John Quincy Adams supporters warned about what was comin'  if Quincy wasn't elected

Tears are comin', fears are comin'
Plague and pestiliance is comin'
Hatin's comin', Satan's comin'
If John Quincy not be comin'.

So let's not wring our hands too hard when the 2012 race starts getting mean-spirited.