Nice and quiet 

Nice and quiet

Were Barack Obama to suggest that Hillary Clinton's shoes are  unfashionable, or she to complain  that his breath could stand sweetening, the pundits would go into a tizzy again — they're never out for long — wailing about “negative campaigning,” the damage it does to American democracy, the American people's certain rejection of such tactics. The punditry's usual nonsense, in other words.

Our manufactured remarks are stronger than anything the two candidates have actually said, but commentators are nonetheless straining to make a case that Clinton v. Obama is a dirty campaign. This is done so commentators can subsequently argue that the Democratic nominee, whoever it is, is ethically inferior to John McCain. They may eventually suggest that the Democrat drop out, so the country can unite behind a candidate pledged to continue George Bush's well-loved policies.

By historical standards, the 2008 race for the Democratic presidential nomination is an uncommonly mild political contest. Nobody stands accused of fathering, or mothering, illegitimate children, an accusation that has been made several times before, including the times when Hillary Clinton's husband ran for president. Neither candidate is said to be in the pay of a foreign country, nor associated with any group that seeks the violent overthrow of the United States government.

An exhibit at the Old State House on Arkansas politics reminds us what politics used to be like. This is from a description of the 1944 U.S. Senate race:  “Adkins said that ‘British Billy,' as he called Fulbright, was a communist sympathizer, an integrationist and a draft-dodger.” (In those days, in the South, “integrationist” was the worst that could be said of a person, except for a cruder term that meant the same thing.) The 1950s section of the exhibit commemorates Jim Johnson, another politician who'd throw “integrationist” at opponents, among other names. He once called a gubernatorial opponent a “prissy sissy” and a “Santa Gertrudis steer.”

There's no reason for outrage over the campaigns of the 2008 presidential candidates. The frivolous and deceitful way the campaigns are covered by the media, now that's another story.


Some pundits are outraged by every campaign; they believe the people should not have a voice in government. One writes: “If every lawmaker was in his last term in office, and so didn't have to campaign and could say what he really thought, imagine the common sense the legislators could afford to demonstrate every session of the Legislature.” And if they didn't have to campaign even for a first term, if they were simply selected by millionaire publishers, imagine what they could demonstrate every session of the Legislature. We'd rather not.


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