News pundits are calling it one of the nastiest presidential elections ever, with Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton hurling insults and publicly degrading each other’s personal integrity on a regular basis.
According to members of the Ferris history department at a speaking event Tuesday, Oct. 18, smear campaign politics is a tradition going back decades, centuries—and further yet.
John Kerry was accused of being a war criminal in 2004. John McCain equated George W. Bush’s speech before Bob Jones University in 2000 to visiting a KKK rally. In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson painted Barry Goldwater as a “mad bomber” seeking nuclear war.
“It was dirty to start with,” said Ferris history sophomore Mikayla Baarlaer, an attendee of the event. “It was never really fair to begin with.”
Voters during the election of 1800 witnessed founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and John Adams virtually tear each other apart long before such events were televised. In those days, newspapers were blatantly biased and proudly so, siding publicly with either Democratic-Republican nominee Jefferson or Federalist incumbent president Adams.
Through the press, Jefferson accused Adams of being a blind, balding fool, ready to side with former enemies Great Britain and its king. Adams called Jefferson a rapist who sired bastard children and wanted to side with France in another war against Britain. Both sides cited the other as a threat to the union, claiming a victory for the opposition would be the absolute end to the then-young United States.
“Both sides considered the other party a criminal faction,” said Ferris professor of history Dr. Barry Mehler.
Adams and Jefferson were both successful presidents and are remembered as being friends and collaborators, but this wasn’t always the case. The nasty bits have mostly been forgotten. Will the same be said of Donald and Hillary?
Let’s back up earlier, about 1900 years earlier to the Roman Senate.
Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus was a consul alongside Julius Caesar and opponent in a political party that opposed autocrats such as Caesar who were gradually gathering too much power against the senate.
In response to Bibulus’ challenge of Caesar’s authority, Caesar repeatedly vetoed bills introduced by his ill-fated opponent. Bibulus challenged Caesar in the forum and after threats from both parties, a supporter of Caesar dumped a pail of dung on the head of Bibulus. As a result, Bibulus locked himself in his home and left politics for several years.
This election year the gloves are off and the feces are flinging, but history shows us that smearing poo on the names of the opponent is not new, nor expected to go away.
“I don’t see any reason why it should stop,” said Ferris professor of history Dr. Gary Huey.
“It makes this election less surprising,” Baarlaer added.