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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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November 6, 2007 5:06 PM

Davy Crockett played dirty

Posted by David Postman

The New York Times has a great interview with Joseph Cummins, author of Anything for a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots, and October Surprises.

Q: Has campaigning gotten any more civilized over time? How have mudslinging and other forms of negative campaigning evolved throughout U.S. history?

A: I think the mudslinging definitely is still a big part of our election process, but it's less broad and vulgar. For instance, there is less aimed at other people's physical attributes. The 19th century was very big on that. In the election of 1800, one of the dirtiest in American history, the venomous hack writer James Callendar (secretly hired by Thomas Jefferson) assailed then-President John Adams as a "repulsive pedant" and "a hideous hermaphroditical character," whatever that means. Later in the 19th century, Martin Van Buren was accused of wearing women's corsets (by Davy Crockett, no less) and James Buchanan (who had a congenital condition that caused his head to tilt to the left) was accused of have unsuccessfully tried to hang himself. Oh, and Abraham Lincoln reportedly had stinky feet.

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