As nasty as an afternoon tea party
By Michael M. Bates
At least that's the storyline dished out by the mainstream media. Democratic presidential candidates Clinton and Obama have reached new levels of enmity in their attacks.
That's laughable. For one thing, the Clintons and their surrogates specialize in speaking vaguely, leaving room for plausible denial. They'll say something like we know what Obama was doing in the hood back in the day. When someone asks, "Why are you bringing up his drug use?" the answer is no, that's not what we were talking about. You misinterpreted what was said.
Barack Obama dwells on fuzzy, feel good promises of hope and change. After his Iowa victory, he told supporters that hope insists "that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it and to work for it and to fight for it." But what precisely is that something better? And is that something better something that all of us will consider something better?
Maybe Barry's imprecision isn't as sinister as that employed by the Clinton gang; it might be a product of spending too many years on campus. Or perhaps he's just hoping the truth that he's a standard issue liberal peddling the old tried and failed solutions won't be so evident.
The contest between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama is downright genteel compared to many others in our history. The 1960 Democratic campaign qualifies as one of the dirtiest. The late Victor Lasky outlined some of the shenanigans in his exceptional book, J.F.K.: The Man & The Myth.
Minnesota's Senator Hubert Humphrey was the top candidate against John Kennedy in the primaries. Kennedy asserted there was no point in having debates because the two of them had few if any differences on the issues. That didn't mean, though, that they couldn't attack each other.
Humphrey pronounced: "I don't have any daddy who can pay the bills for me. I can't afford to run around this state (West Virginia) with a little black bag and a checkbook. I don't think elections should be bought. They're spending with wild abandon." He also declared Kennedy was "acting like a spoiled juvenile" and recommended that "Brother Bobby examine his own conscience about innuendoes and smears."
Kennedy's forces hit back at Humphrey, charging he was a draft dodger during World War II. That wasn't accurate; Humphrey had a deferment, as many fathers with three children did. When he volunteered for the Navy, he failed the physical.
The facts were immaterial to JFK backer Franklin Roosevelt, Jr.: "There's another candidate in your primary. He's a good Democrat, but I don't know where he was in World War II." Candidate Kennedy subsequently avowed that no one had contributed more to an honest discussion of the issues than his pal Roosevelt.
The editor of the Logan Banner claimed the West Virginia primary was "one of the most corrupt elections in county history" and payoffs "ranged anywhere from $2 and a drink of whiskey to $6 and two pints of whiskey for a single vote."
A 1994 Boston Globe article on a former West Virginia political boss told of the man's surprise when in 1960 he received from the Kennedy campaign two sealed briefcases containing $35,000 in cash. He was directed to use the money to win the primary. Later on, President Kennedy invited the boss to the White House to personally thank him for his efforts.
Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson also made a 1960 bid for his party's nomination. During the campaign, a Johnson aide suggested to Bobby Kennedy that JFK's team played rough by claiming the majority leader hadn't fully recovered from a heart attack. According to "The Kennedys" by Peter Collier and David Horowitz, "Bobby exploded: ‘You've got your nerve. Lyndon Johnson has compared my father to the Nazis and (Johnson lieutenant) John Connally. . . lied by saying my brother (John) was dying of Addison's disease. You Johnson people are running a stinking damned campaign and you'll get yours when the time comes.'"
What Johnson did get, as we know, was the vice presidency and ultimately the White House. The Kennedys were known for holding grudges, but not if they interfered with their ambitions.
Then there was the issue of John Kennedy's Catholicism and remnants of religious bigotry. His wife Jackie viewed the matter differently than many people. In "The Kennedys" she's quoted: "I think it's so unjust of people to be against Jack because he's a Catholic. He's such a poor Catholic. Now if it was Bobby, I could understand it."
There were questions as to who was actually distributing anti-Catholic literature when it became obvious that Kennedy was benefiting from the backlash. Nothing came of the inquiries.
Buying votes. Religious bigotry. Innuendoes and smears. Nazis. Dying of Addison's disease. You're going to get yours.
Those Democrats knew mean. Compared to them, today's Democratic guys and gals belong to a mutual admiration society.
This Michael Bates column appeared in the January 17, 2008 Reporter Newspapers.