Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Long Campaign Offers Opportunity

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Long Campaign Offers Opportunity

Article excerpt

NOW THAT SEN. Bob Dole has clinched the Republican nomination, five months before his party's convention and seven months before the election, the stage is set for the longest presidential campaign since the early days of the republic. This presents the country with unusual opportunities as well as problems, and, as often is the case, we can learn something from history.

We need to go back to 1828, when Andrew Jackson, the hero of the War of 1812, defeated the incumbent, John Quincy Adams. Adams essentially began running for re-election even before his inauguration. Scarcely to be outdone, Jackson resigned his seat in the Senate, so as to have a full three years to battle his opponent.

The result, as the historian Samuel Eliot Morison put it, was that "This election of 1828 was the first presidential one that really smelled. The most absurd lies were spread."

Now at this time, the political parties were developing out of their local origins into national institutions. Factions within the states were reaching out to develop alliances with like-minded people of other states. Federal power was beginning to offer greater fruits of patronage than previously had been available.

A class of professional politicians was developing, and from the beginning, it displayed what has been its lasting characteristic, namely, opportunism. "It did not matter that there was no national issue or popular grievance; the politicians would see to that, and principles could be attended to after victory," Morison wrote.

Mud was slung from both sides. Jackson's premarital relationship with his wife became an issue and his mother was called a prostitute. Adams was alleged to have pimped for the emperor of Russia. The president was accused of using public funds to buy gambling equipment for the White House. Old Hickory's frontier brawling got into the campaign.

"Altogether," wrote Morison, "it was the most degrading presidential election the United States had ever experienced. Worse, however, were to come."

Which brings us back to the present.

The misleading sound bite, the negative commercial, the vicious anonymous leak to the press, the surrogate attack dogs - all these and more today carry on the spirit of 1828. Technology has broadened the reach of calumny and the modern media have given it immediacy.

If the next seven months are given over to this kind of electioneering, then America is in for more than just a dreary time of it. It will have squandered a great opportunity. And if a plausible third-party candidate emerges to throw a wild card into the game, the Republicans and Democrats will probably be able to thank no one but themselves.

What is the opportunity? It is to use this long period of time, unprecedented in modern politics, to inform and educate the voters about the important issues of the day. …

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