3-13 JM Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 14, 2004

It didn’t take long, did it? Somebody pulled the duct tape off the politicians’ mouths and next thing you know, the quest for the party ticket has become a cage match of fake wrestlers whose pants are too tight.

We’re not talking about John Kerry and George W. Bush, either. As noted naval officer John Paul Jones might have said, those two have yet begun to fight.

No, we’re talking about West Alabama and some of our politicians. U.S. Rep. Artur Davis called challenger Albert Turner Jr. an “embarrassment,” among other things. Turner called Davis a failure in his first term representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional District in Washington, D.C.

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If you think that’s bad, you should have been around back in 1832 when Andrew Jackson sought to retain his seat as the seventh President of the United States. A bunch of Whigs, including Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, said they wanted to defend the popular liberties against the “usurpation of Jackson.” For the life of me, I can’t remember how my fifth grade teacher defined a “Whig,” and just because I’m a so-called writer doesn’t mean I have a clue what the “usurpation of Jackson” really means. From what I can tell, it was a pretty mean thing to say about the President.

I’ve also read that during Jackson’s re-election bid, national newspaper cartoonists depicted the President as King Andrew I. Again, not sure what that means, but I’m pretty sure it was mudslinging at its best in the 19th Century.

There’s a point to our futile attempt at presidential history: Children should pay better attention to their history teachers.

Actually, the point is that negative campaigning — a saying our esteemed, left-leaning media have grown to adore — is nothing new. Calling a president a king during the first 50 years of our nation’s founding was a lot like calling someone a Commie during the late 1970s.

Negativity in political campaigning has grown into a necessity for men and women who want to be elected — no matter if it’s a seat on the U.S. Senate or the Podunk City Council. Obviously, I’d never publicly condone political mudslinging, but compile the past week’s potpourri of rants from at least two politicians seeking your votes, and I think you’ll find some interest in their intent.

As a potential voter, what do you enjoy about the campaign process? If a politician stands in front of a group of 100 citizens and starts talking about the intricacies of a healthcare plan, how long do you keep your eyes open?

Instead, we remember when Bill Clinton virtually called George Bush’s economic plan stupid. We remember when Ronald Reagan worked to elect Bush in 1992 and said, “This fellow they’ve nominated [Michael Dukakis] claims he’s the new Thomas Jefferson. Well let me tell you something; I knew Thomas Jefferson. He was a friend of mine and Governor… You’re no Thomas Jefferson!”

Reagan had a way with words, but he also had a way of breaking down an opponent with a smile on his face.

Former President Clinton had a more direct approach. Answering a question about the first President Bush, he quickly responded: “Every time Bush talks about trust, it makes chills run up and down my spine. The way he has trampled on the truth is a travesty of the American political system.”

As President George W. Bush would say, that’s kind of an “ironical” quote these days.

Despite our superficial wish to have political campaigns that focus on “the issues,” the unfortunate reality is that constituents vote on candidates who have the best demeanor and demonstrate the best leadership skills.

Ever seen a political candidate kiss a baby? Ever seen a candidate shake a person’s hand? The oft-spoken rule of national politics is that candidates win the vote of every person’s hand they shake.

Does that reality have anything to do with “the issues?” Of course not.

Over the next couple of months, mudslinging in West Alabama will become part of the norm. Seasoned candidates like Davis and Turner aren’t going to back down from each other.

You can even expect the same sort of negativity in the district attorney’s race in our region. While Greg Griggers is running for office for the first time, you can bet he’ll point out what he believes are the faults of challenger Barrown Lankster. And you can bet Lankster, who runs for some sort of office every four years, understands the necessities of a political campaign.

While voting for “the issues” certainly makes a lot more sense, most of us vote for candidates who can win a fight. And ever since the first elected officials of this nation won office, our political system is designed to be one big fight.