There are always too many Democratic congressmen, too many Republican congressmen, and never enough U.S. congressmen. ~Author Unknown
Just earlier this week, famed pastor Rick Warren from Saddleback Church in California, cancelled a “Civil Debate” between presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Obama because he claims the candidates are acting too uncivilly. He said, “The forums are meant to be a place where people of goodwill can seriously disagree on significant issues without being disagreeable or resorting to personal attack and name-calling. But that is not the climate of today’s campaign. I’ve never seen more irresponsible personal attacks, mean-spirited slander, and flat-out dishonest attack ads, and I don’t expect that tone to change before the election.”1 Warren is the same pastor who moderated a debate between President Obama and then Presidential candidate John McCain back in 2008.
Has politics REALLY taken a turn for the worse within recent years? To better answer that question, we can look to the presidential election of 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. This election was especially brutal in regards to political smears.
Jefferson hired a Scottish “scandalmonger” named James Callender to dig up and print dirt on the sitting President John Adams. Some of the rumors Callender published about Adams was that he was intended to crown himself king, setting his son John Quincy Adams up as heir. He also called him “mentally deranged, “claimed that Adams was a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." Callender also postulated that Adams started the Quasi-War crisis with France for his own political gain.2
While politics seems to have changed little since the 1880 election, one thing that has changed is the way we acquire political news. In the age of information, we are continually besieged with attack ads, pummeled with pithy partisan talking points, and barraged by candidates making campaign promised in order to sway our votes. We can also follow the latest political blunders as they unfold and are brought to us in real time, and then we can watch them over and over again on www.youtube.com. Is it really any wonder that we are so sick of politics and the partisan bickering?
In his Farwell Address in 1796, President George Washington warned us about the dangers of forming political parties: “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
According to the “Father of Our Country,” principles not parties--are what should really matter to us. Shortly after Washington left office the political divisions began--as did the fight for power. We currently have a two-party system, where political pundits are unceasingly pitting one set of values against another—left vs. right, right vs. wrong, black vs. white, and on and on…these classifications only work to further divide us, not unite us as Americans. And while we cannot realistically expect to agree on everything, we can change the conversation. A little respect for those on the opposite side of the aisle can go a REALLY long way…
1. Seidl, Jonathon M. “Pastor Rick Warren Cancels Obama-Romney ‘Civil Forum’ Because Candidates Are Too Uncivil.” Ed. Scott Baker. 2012. The Blaze. 23 Aug. 2012 <http://www.theblaze.com/stories/pastor-rick-warren-cancels-obama-romney-civil-forum-because-candidates-are-too-uncivil/>
2. People and Events: James Callender. 2005. Public Broadcasting Company. 26 Aug. 2005 <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/adams/peopleevents/p_callender.html>