Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Second Oldest Profession

¡Hola! Everybody…

BTW, anybody seen Osama bin Laden lately? I’m sayin’… I know McCain is dying for another video to come out. Obama has a double-digit lead in terms of who would be better fit to guide the economy and his lead in the polls overall is inching past the statistical tie. I’ll tell you: the Islamic extremists aren’t as stupid as we would have them. After all, didn’t they elect an imbecile twice?

::blank stare::


* * *

-=[ Mugwumps, Debauchers, and Plumed Knights ]=-

“We do not believe that the American people will knowingly elect to the presidency a coarse debauchee who would bring his harlots with him to Washington and hire lodgings for them convenient to the White House.”

-- New York Sun on Grover Cleveland

To listen to people tell it today, one would think there was a time in American politics where the grab for power was a genteel affair. Nothing could be further from the truth. I will admit that the methods have grown more sophisticated (for lack of a better word), but mudslinging and outright lies have always been part of presidential elections. In fact, a look at past elections would shock many here.

One president’s wife, for example, was charged with being a bigamist (technically she was). It was said of one of the most revered political minds of our history, Thomas Jefferson, that he would set the “seal of death on holy religion” if he were elected. Abraham Lincoln, considered by many historians as one of greatest presidents, was characterized by his opponents as “a low-bred, obscene clown,” and a “dishonest baboon.”

Truth be told, there are countless elections to choose from in terms of plain meanness, but one that stands out for its pure salaciousness is the election of 1884. One historian called it “the dirtiest campaign in United States History.” According to their opponents, the choices offered were, on the one hand, “the town drunk” and “a coarse debaucher,” and on the other, “an unrestrained public plunderer.”

This was an era known as the Gilded Age, one that parallels the times we live in today. It was a time of unregulated greed and robber barons, and abject poverty for the many, riches for the few. One writer, speaking of the times, wrote, “The Standard [Oil Company] has done everything with the Pennsylvania legislature except refine it.”

Sound familiar? LOL

The Democrats nominated Grover Cleveland, who had been governor of New York. At 5 feet 11 inches tall and 260 pounds, he was a huge figure. Called “Grover the Good” because of his honesty and commitment to the often cited but seldom adhered to belief that “a public office is a public trust.” He dismayed family and supporters with his stubborn refusal to accept political favors and his efforts to root out graft and promote civil service reform. For this reason, independent Republicans nicknamed “Mugwumps” (because, it was said, they had their mugs one side of the fence, and their “wumps” on the other) deserted their party and joined the ranks of Cleveland supporters. Which goes to show that republicans have always cannibalized their own.

In a “mass meeting of maniacs” (as the editor of the Nation put it), the Republicans nominated James G. Blaine, previously a Congressman and then Senator from the state of Maine. Unlike his opponent, Blaine had a reputation as flamboyant (supporters called him the “Plumed Knight”) and corrupt (opponents called him “Slippery Jim”). In fact, Blaine was considered so corrupt that one prominent New York power player famously replied, I don not engage in criminal practice,” when asked if he would support Blaine.

In the beginning of the campaign Cleveland’s enemies couldn’t bring up anything on him worse than the charge that he was a “cowardly bigot.” On the other hand, the Democrats and the Mugwumps had a field day with Blaine’s history of shady financial dealings. To his enemies he was the “tattooed man” famously depicted in a political cartoon with “corruption” written all over his disrobed body.

Blaine’s troubles began in earnest when it was reported that the Union Pacific Railroad had given him a “loan” of $64,000. Apparently, in return for what amounted to bribe, Blaine had used his influence as Speaker of the House of Representatives to provide a railroad land grant. The scandal resurfaced in the 1884 election when transcripts of letters, the most damning a letter from Blaine himself that ended with the incriminating postscript: “Burn this letter,” were made public.

After, the Democrats took to chanting “Blaine! Blaine! James G. Blaine! The continental liar from the state of Maine!” in response to the Republican rhyme “Blaine! Blaine! The man from Maine!

But the worst for Cleveland was yet to come. Ten days after the Democratic convention a Buffalo broke the story that Cleveland had an illegitimate son, then ten years old, from an affair with a young widow named Maria Halpin.

But Cleveland did some thing that surprised both his supporters and enemies: He instructed his campaign adviser to “Tell the truth.” Yes, Cleveland (a bachelor) had been involved with Maria Halpin (as had quite a few other men, apparently), and although he could not be sure the child was his, nonetheless he did “the honorable thing” and provided financial support. This had the effect of taking much of the air out of the scandal (something Clinton could have learned from, by the way).

The Republicans were beside themselves with rapture. Paraders chanted, “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” to which the Democrats replied, “Gone to the White House, ha, ha!” [Refer to the cartoon, “Another vote for Cleveland.”]

Eventually, Blaine’s “financial dealings” would be his downfall. Even so, both men were even outside of New York (Cleveland, 183 electoral votes, and Blaine, 182). On election day, a driving rain in New York suppressed the republican vote. Blaine lost New York by 1,149 votes and with it the election.



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