"...and as to you, sir, treacherous in private friendship . . . and a hypocrite in public life, the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an impostor, whether you have abandoned good principles, or whether you ever had any."
"The President is nothing more than a well-meaning baboon." I went to the White House directly after tea where I found the 'original Gorilla' about as intelligent as ever. What a specimen to be at the head of our affairs now!"
The first statement was by Tom Paine about President George Washington and the second by General George McClellan concerning his commander-in-chief, President Abraham Lincoln.
I was reminded of these quotes as we approach another election and the 'negative campaigning' that seems to be a staple of such elections. Yet, what we call negative campaigning pales in comparison to the vitriolic language of the past. In fact, what we experience is downright insipid and dull.
Our own Sam Houston said about Jeff Davis, President of the Confederacy, "Yes, I know Mr. Davis. He is as ambitious as Lucifer, cold as a snake, and what he touches will not prosper" -- words that today's politician would speak about another politician at his own peril.
American political invective is such a rich lode to mine--except for the present when "good taste" overcame good name-calling. Good name-calling is not the repetitive use of profanity nor snide slander, but it delights in finding the right word and the right image to tarnish an opponent.
"His (words) leave the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea. Sometimes these meandering words would actually capture a straggling thought and bear it triumphantly a prisoner in their midst until it died of servitude and overwork."
Ouch! Somebody finally got the number of this writer?
No. It was written about President Warren Harding.
--Robert H. Tucker
8 August 1999
© Robert H. Tucker, 1999.
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