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Unbecoming campaign

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted March 15, 2004

When you have been involved in the political process for forty-eight years, either as a participant or as a reporter and /or editorialist, you begin to be treated as a grandfatherly figure who just might reach back into the recesses of his mind to make a pertinent observation now and then. Now mind you, I was just a freshman in high school when I went door to door for Ike and Nixon in 1956. By the 1958 elections I was already on the board of a county political party and two years after that I was reporting on the Nixon/Kennedy race on Wisconsin radio.

In every campaign since I have either been an activist, reporter or commentator. So the other day when I was asked, "Have you ever seen such hatred in an election as is being directed against President Bush," I had to think hard.

The race between President Eisenhower and Governor Adlai Stevenson race was a model of civility. No hatred there. Then Eisenhower's Vice President, Richard Nixon, ran in 1960 against Senator John F. Kennedy. While it was intense, there was no real hatred. In 1964 there was hatred directed against Senator Barry Goldwater, who was the GOP nominee against the incumbent President Lyndon Johnson. LBJ became President when John Kennedy was assassinated.

Lyndon Johnson
Johnson

It may have been hatred that caused President Johnson to bow out of the 1968 race. (Hey, hey LBJ. How many kids did you kill today?) And there was plenty of hatred aimed at Johnson's Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, after the Chicago convention. Humphrey had defeated Senator Eugene McCarthy, the antiwar hero of his time. Humphrey had to face former Vice President Nixon and Governor George Wallace in November. Although the Communists had never forgiven Nixon for his role in the Alger Hiss case, their hatred for Nixon really did not manifest itself until Nixon had actually won the Presidency.

With leftist Senator George McGovern as the Democratic nominee against President Nixon, there was hatred in 1972, but it clearly was confined to a minority of Democrats and leftists outside of the party.

In 1974 Nixon was forced to resign or face impeachment, so our appointed Vice President, Gerald Ford, became President. In 1976 he faced Governor Jimmy Carter. Both were thought of as nice guys. No hatred.

In 1980 incumbent President Carter faced former California Governor, Ronald Reagan. The left hated Reagan but had convinced themselves he could not be elected President, so there was no appreciable hatred that year. By 1984 the left ginned up lots of hatred against incumbent President, Ronald Reagan, in his race against former Governor, Walter Mondale. Still, the hatred was confined to a relatively narrow band of the electorate.

In 1988 Reagan's Vice President and Governor Michael Dukakis were both regarded as gentlemen, so there was little hatred that year. In 1992, when the affable Governor Bill Clinton was opposing President Bush, a third party candidate, businessman Ross Perot, became a factor. There wasn't much hatred in the electorate but Perot was rumored to have hated Bush. Some say he ran just to guarantee his defeat.

Bill Clinton
Clinton

In 1996 President Clinton was running for re-election against Senator Bob Dole. There was some Republican hatred of Clinton but it showed up mainly in Clinton's second term, when Clinton became the second President in history to be impeached. After that, Clinton stoked up hatred against the Republicans and the "vast right wing conspiracy". That sentiment carried into the 2000 election when Clinton's Vice President, Al Gore, was running against Governor George Bush.

The real hatred of Bush began after the Supreme Court stopped the selective recount in Florida. Democrats contended that the election had been stolen. Apparently, liberals thought that Bush would just limp along since he had won a razor-thin Electoral College victory and had lost the popular vote. Instead he governed boldly, especially after 9-11 of 2001. Bush campaigned hard in 2002 and helped the GOP to re-take the U.S. Senate and increased the Republican margin in the House. The last time a Republican President won seats in his first mid-term election was Teddy Roosevelt one hundred years earlier. Hatred for Bush grew among rank and file Democrats after that.

So, the short answer to the question is no, I have not seen this kind of hatred in any election I have observed in my political lifetime.

The difference between the hatred in 2004 and previous elections is that it is so widespread. Most rank and file Democrats who are loyal to their party (which is more united than at anytime since 1964), hate this President. It is not just fringe groups. It is not just a narrow band of the electorate.

Will hatred translate into votes? It remains to be seen. There is no real precedent for what we are seeing today. The question is whether hatred can motivate voters. If the primaries are any indication, the answer would seem to be no. Bill Clinton, running unopposed for the Democratic nomination in 1996, managed to win the votes of nine percent of the electorate. Senator John Kerry, Senator John Edwards, Governor Howard Dean, Congressman Dick Gephardt, General Wesley Clark, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, former Senator Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton running together garnered 11.2 percent of the electorate in those states that have had primaries. So all of that anger has produced 2.2 percent more votes this year compared with eight years ago. But we have a long way to go until Election Day. So far, Republicans don't hate Senator Kerry, so we don't have hate vs. hate. Let us hope and pray it will stay that way. And let us hope and pray that hatred for the President diminishes. A party with a history as great as the
Democrat Party should not be consumed by hatred.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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