Has Politics Always Been Down and Dirty?

So here we are once again embroiled in a heated, bitter, mud-slinging, verbal shootout that translates loosely as a presidential election.

Will Rogers

It gets worse every time.

That’s what they say.

Is it really worse?

Or does television simply keep dirty politics up close and personal?

It may have been just as bad in the good old days, but we didn’t have CNN, Fox, and MSNBC, among the network’s talking heads, dragging the mud to our living rooms every day and dumping in on the carpet in time for dinner.

Jenny McCutcheon, the humorist whose Friday blog has become one of our most popular columns, sent me a list of quotes from political battles in the near and distant past.

They have never been tame.

Gentlemen don’t run for President.

Or any other office, for that matter.

“We hang petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.” That was the opinion of Aesop who had a lot of fables and probably counted politics as one of them.

The along came Will Rogers, who said the only thing he knew was what he read in the newspapers, and he didn’t trust the newspapers. Will said: “If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us in these State of the Union speeches, there wouldn’t be any inducement to go to heaven.”

Adlai Stevenson

Clarence Darrow, when he wasn’t debating about men tracing their lineage to monkeys, remarked, “When I was a boy, I was told that anybody could become President; I’m beginning to believe it.”

Even Nikita Khrushchev, from afar and on the far side of the Iron Curtain, was quoted as saying: “Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.”

Adlai Stevenson, sounded a lot like today’s candidates during a 1952 campaign speech when he said, “I offer my opponents a bargain. If they will stop telling lies about us, I will stop telling the truth about them.”

French President Charles de Gaulle, who went from the battlefield to the presidency, admitted: “I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.”

If Will Rogers had said this today instead of the 1930s, he would have been arrested, tried on the courthouse steps, then buried beneath the courthouse. He said, “There ought to be one day – just one day – when there is open season on senators.” No one was worried so much about guns then, just bread and having enough of it to eat.

Tex Guinan, who gave parties larger than some Third World Countries, had her finger daily on the pulse of Washington. She said, “A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country.”

I have no idea who Don Larson was, unless he was the guy who pitched a no-hitter in the world series, but I liked what he had to say: “Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks.”

Oscar Ameringer, known as the Mark Twain of American socialism, offered this opinion: “Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich by promising to protect each from the other.” Class warfare in a Presidential election is obviously nothing new.

And when it’s all boiled down to the bottom line, I’m inclined to agree with Jay Leno, who left us with this tidbit of late-night television wisdom: “If God wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates.”

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