American politics has always contained an element of “gotcha” mudslinging designed to reveal or suggest unpopular attributes or acts of candidates for public office, but in recent years it appears that all too many campaigns have become little more than contests dominated by gotcha elements and efforts.

In general, voters have become, in my opinion, ever more hypocritical. We revel in the efforts of the media to dig up dirt and distasteful items about the candidates we dislike, and we ignore the unpleasantnesses revealed about “our” candidate. We claim virtues we often don’t exhibit, but castigate candidates whose actions reveal that they’re not all that different from the rest of us. Let’s face it. Everyone has skeletons in their closet… and if not in their closet, then in the closets of their families and associates. That’s why it’s not exactly surprising that the majority of violent crimes are committed in the home and that the largest percentage of murders are committed by someone who knew or was related to the victim.

Even some of our greatest presidents weren’t exactly saints. Jefferson’s intimate relations with a slave who also happened to be his wife’s half-sister resulted in a number of children born on the wrong side of the blanket. Lincoln was consistently depressed, told thoroughly racist and vulgar jokes in his early years, and was married to a woman who was anything but stable. Franklin Roosevelt not only hid the severity of his polio; he also hid the number of extra-marital affairs. Jackson married a woman when she was still married to another man. George Washington owned the largest distillery in the United States when he was president and sent troops to put down the whiskey rebellion. He also persuaded Congress to buy stone from his quarries for the capitol building, stone that eventually had to be replaced because of its deficiencies.

That didn’t mean that these men didn’t accomplish a great deal as presidents, because they did. It does suggest that we might be better off as voters if we stopped focusing exclusively on their negatives.

After all, would you want to be judged solely on your failures and worst traits?

7 thoughts on “Skeletons”

  1. D Archerd says:

    And yet negative campaigning persists for the simple reason that it works. As Lyndon Johnson once famously observed, “It’s not necessary to prove your opponent actually had sex with a sheep; you just have to make him deny it.”

    1. Grey says:

      “It’s not necessary to prove your opponent actually had sex with a sheep; you just have to make him deny it.”

      Well, I for one, am looking forward to 17 months of “Benghazi!”

  2. wayne kernochan says:

    Perhaps my favorite “gotcha” comes from a campaign against Sen. George Mather (?) of Florida, who, his opponents alleged, practiced philately, while his sister was a noted thespian 🙂

    1. Actually, in his successful 1950 campaign against the incumbent Florida Senator, Claude Pepper, Smathers was reported to have said, “Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, he has a brother who is a known homo sapiens,and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, habitually practiced celibacy.”

      Smathers denied making the statement, although it was reported in Time magazine.

      1. D Archerd says:

        And he probably masticated his victuals in public!

  3. wayne kernochan says:

    I stand corrected; you clearly have more reliable sources. In that case, I’ll go with my father’s anecdote about Winston Churchill, who is said to have remarked about a particularly useless member of the House of Commons that he “filled a needed void.”

  4. Josh Camden says:

    The media tends to spend so much time digging up dirt, and spitting it back out that actual, usable data is very hard to come by. Its “available” but really who has the time to dig that hard. The candidate promoters (advertising companies) love the water to be murky. No chance of solution until the economics of elections are changed.

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