In the last few days before the election, it is likely you were involved in or overheard a conversation that resembled the following:
I’m so sick of politics.
Ya, me too. Politics has become so negative.
Ya, all the TV ads are just personal insults.
Totally. I’m ready for it to be over.
While many need a break from the grueling campaigning and political advertising, the reality is that politics will not be over anytime soon, and it has not “become” more negative. Politics has historically been an aggressive, often nasty line of business. The passion of politics has led many a politician to utter severe insults toward his or her opponents, but as much as some may dislike it, this is not necessarily bad, nor new.
People often say things in “the heat of the moment.” The passion of a particular situation sometimes riles us up to a point that we hurl an insult. To get to this heated point, an individual usually has to be pretty involved in or passionate about a particular subject. So, it is not insults themselves that are great for politics; it is the fact that those hurling the insults care enough to feel the need to use them. This does not necessarily make political insults and purposeful negativity right or even appropriate; it simply indicates that people care, and that is a good start.
In a recent Huff Post blog, Kare Anderson argues
No, you are not imagining it. Political insults are getting increasingly personal, widespread and intense -- not just between candidates and their surrogates but amongst almost all of us, at this point.
Anderson is right to point out that politicians are not the only ones to get passionate about politics – my Facebook and Twitter feeds were overflowing with some pretty rude commentary – but she has forgotten her history. Here are ten particularly offensive comments that I thought would help put the historical passion of politics into perspective:
- … and to you, sir, treacherous in private friendship … and a hypocrite in public life, the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an impostor, whether you have abandoned good principles or whether you ever had any.
Thomas Paine (1737-1809), letter to George Washington (1732-99)
- We did not conceive it possible that even Mr. Lincoln would produce a paper so slipshod, so loose-joined, so puerile, not alone in literary construction, but in its ideas, its sentiments, its grasp. He has outdone himself.
Chicago Times (1863) on Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (19 November 1863)
- Filthy Story-Teller, Despot, Liar, Thief, Braggart, Buffoon, Usurper, Monster, Ignoramus Abe, Old Scoundrel, Perjurer, Robher (sic), Swindler, Tyrant, Field-Butcher, Land-Pirate.
Harper’s Weekly on Abraham Lincoln
- He would kill his own mother just so that he could use her skin to make a drum to beat his own praises.
Margot Asquith (1864-1945), writer and wife of Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith, on Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
- He's a nice guy, but he played too much football with his helmet off. Lyndon Johnson on Gerald Ford
- Bill Clinton's foreign policy experience is pretty much confined to having had breakfast once at the International House of Pancakes. Pat Buchanan on Bill Clinton
- (N)o more backbone than a chocolate eclair. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Teddy Roosevelt on President William McKinley (TR would later become McKinley's Vice President)
- His argument is as thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had been starved to death. Abraham Lincoln on Stephen Douglas
- A slur upon the moral government of the world. John Quincy Adams on Thomas Jefferson
- I have only two regrets: I didn't shoot Henry Clay and I didn't hang John C. Calhoun. Andrew Jackson of his Vice President John C. Calhoun
I am not endorsing political insults or negativity. I am simply pointing out that they are a historical part of politics because politics is a passion-filled business. If it weren’t, America would have a larger problem. The intense nature of politics indicates its importance because it touches the issues that are dearest to the American people.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is famous for saying a phrase I love:
Get mad then get over it.
It is natural to get mad, and it is human to say stupid things. But then we need to get over it. Politics does not have to be nasty, but we should remember that because of the importance of the issues with which it deals, it is prone to being a passionate, competitive business; insults and negativity are likely to arise. It is important, however, to remember, that at the end of the day, particularly at the end of the election, we are all on the same team. It is often said that we say the meanest things to the people we love the most. I am not sure that this applies to all politicians, but perhaps it provides a little insight into the intensity of politics that, though frustrating at times, often emerges from a deeper passion.