MARR BLOG 8/22/12TEST YOUR HISTORICAL KNOWLEDGE!Which Jefferson was President of the United States . . . & which Jefferson was married to "Weezie?"
The people of every generation like to feel they are novel and unique, that their thoughts and actions surpass all that has come before.
This arrogance, which I don’t use as a pejorative since it’s merely a seeming fact of human nature, applies to things both good and bad. The peoples of every era like to delude and deceive themselves that they are special.
Thus, we tell both ourselves and our fellow man that our struggles are far more difficult than those experienced in a bygone age. Our successes are defined as being the greatest ever. Even our failings, the lowest common denominators of our species, are heralded as the worst ever, the most vile in recorded history.
What a load of narcissistic bombast it all is.
A prime example taking place right now is the collective belief that our current political campaigns -- as defined by the citizenry and the press -- are “the meanest ever seen,” “the lowest of all time.” Every time I hear that I want to ask the speaker how on earth they ever managed to learn to bathe, feed themselves, find their car keys. I want to know if they put their shoes and socks on in that order.
Seriously, political campaigns were, are, and probably always will be defined by lies, half-truths, mud slinging and a distinct lack of character, honor and intelligence. These lovely traits may be more evident in the 21st century, thanks to the non-stop presence and somewhat autistic delivery afforded by the Internet and traditional media, but the depths to which the messages and manipulation sink are hardly singular or peerless.
In fact, campaigns of years past were probably dirtier than those we see now. They had to be, as it takes some pretty outrageous claims to character assassinate an opponent when the primary method of propaganda dissemination is word of mouth.
Really . . . if anyone could be bothered to crack a history book they should look back at the things said during the presidential contests of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1796 an 1800. The personal slanders dragged the bottom of barrel. You had a tie of electoral votes in the latter election, and the president was picked by the House of Representatives (that’s for all those who thought Bush/Gore and the Florida debacle of 2000 was something new).
Adams, who won the first race in 1796 (electorally speaking . . . Jefferson won the popular vote) had passed the Alien and Sedition Act. This allowed the arrest and imprisonment of any individual who dared to speak against or criticize the government. In light of all the talk of freedoms slipping away in 2012, how many people know that at one point in our history (in fact, at many points) freedoms have been both squashed and reinstated?
This is but one example. In 1860 the race between Abe Lincoln and Stephen Douglas was marked by invective that would make the politically correct milquetoasts of 2012 shudder and faint. The press was full of racist cartoons (many times daily) that would today have the artist and publisher arrested for hate crimes.
I’ll spare you any more examples. Suffice it to say that the only constant is that there has really never been a “clean and honest” election for higher office. Candidates know, and have always known, that most people don’t bother to check facts. They vote out of emotion, vote out of ideology, vote based on appearance, vote based on the desire to fit in with their peer groups, vote on popularity, stage presence, a dandy speaking voice, and the ability to lie convincingly.
That’s why gutter-level campaigning works. Most of the electorate lacks the mental wattage or personal gumption to find out what a candidate really stands for. It’s far easier to decide you like a candidate’s hair and vote for him because he told you a fairy tale you dearly wish to believe.
The elections of 2012 (Senate, House, Governorships, Oval Office) are really no different than those that have come before. Almost all such campaigns have two factions that pretty much detest each other; the country is almost always divided down the middle. The sole difference now is that people can air their two bits on Facebook and Twitter and feel they are involved, that they are important, that they are being heard
News flash . . . they ain’t. They’re mostly just talking into a mirror.
I used to be involved in politics, spending well over a decade writing and researching on a regional and national level. I gave that up years back, for the most part, as the effort strikes me as rather pointless and stupid. I hang out at the house, play with the dogs, build my guitars, bbq all pork that crosses my path and keep my head down. Occasionally I'll slap something out merely to amuse myself or to irritate the easily irritated, but the truth is this.
I have only one real belief when it comes to politics.
That belief (a phrase I stole from my old friend Ransom Jack Reynolds) is that "the best kind of government is the type that leaves me the hell alone.” Of course, that type of government has never existed. It probably never will exist. Ironically . . . it’s the type of government Thomas Jefferson wanted as well (he was a contradictory man, but the one constant of his writing was a hatred of large, intrusive, centralized government).
Most folks don't know this. Sadly, I would hazard a guess that most people think Thomas Jefferson was the name of an African American dry-cleaner on a 1970s sit-com.