Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Campaign Hammer and Tongs Are out Unusually Early

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Campaign Hammer and Tongs Are out Unusually Early

Article excerpt

The British historian Denis Brogan once wrote, with admiration, about how a truly marvelous political process in the United States somehow brought together people who really were so far apart: geographically, ethnically, racially, religiously, and in their feelings about the direction their leaders should take their country.

He wrote that the long campaign for president, filled with cheering and boisterousness at the political conventions, and then followed by accusations and debate between the party nominees, somehow became the glue that brought the country together. He concluded that this process provided a way in which the voters could "let off steam" before they went to the polls, chose a president, and then buried their differences while uniting behind their chosen leader. "Better than using guns" to settle their differences, he observed.

Mr. Brogan, writing a half-century ago, had it right: That's the odd but admirable way our presidential succession comes about - when our new president takes office in the wake of this unifying process. But Brogan could well have added that whatever unity came about through this process might or might not hold for long after the election.

What is new to me - and I'm now looking back on 50 years of watching presidential campaigns quite closely as a political writer - is candidates going after each other with hammer and tongs this early.

Also, it's quite apparent that President Bush's 2000 election was not the unifying influence that Brogan was writing about. It's true that in the wake of Sept. 11, Mr. Bush was widely perceived as an outstanding leader and his response to terrorism drew the backing of Democrats. But that didn't last long. A widely unpopular Iraq war and severe job losses have reignited an anti-Bush feeling that carried over from an election that many Democrats believe he stole from Al Gore.

And now, of course, the air is filled with rancor as the Democrats and Republicans exchange jabs over the question of whether the Bush White House did enough to deter terrorism before Sept. …

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