Thankful for Modern Politics?

Thankful for Modern Politics?

Every four years, Thanksgiving falls shortly after a presidential election, and, in those years, some people might include the outcome of the vote in their list of things for which they are grateful. (Other people may not; yet others may deny there even was such an outcome.) This not being a presidential election year, we have been thinking about what besides electoral results could be the source of political thankfulness in 2021.

Have we seen helpful new laws? That’s debatable. International cooperation and true world peace? Not exactly. The country’s problems fading in the rearview mirror? Not so much.

Nevertheless, by putting on our attitude of gratitude, Principle Based Politics will articulate a reason to be grateful that stems from our roots.

Looking on the Bright Side

Midwesterners regard ourselves as being well grounded. Solid. Show up for work. Nice. Honest. That’s us, we like to think. But we also joke about our “hot dishes,” our long goodbyes, and our use of words like “pop” and “you betcha.”

More than anything, perhaps Midwesterners are known for our indirect or backhanded evaluations. When our team plays a big game, we say the result was “not too bad”—irrespective of the result. When there is a storm, we say, “At least nobody was killed.” And, no matter what happens, we tend to keep our chins up, shrug, and say, “Things could be worse” or “I’ve seen worse.”

In that philosophical mode, let us step back and assess American politics. Specifically, is our nation really as divided as it seems? Is gridlock at an all-time high and civility at an all-time low?

No. Actually, things indeed could be worse. Exhibit A for “it could be worse” always is going to be the Civil War period, when 11 states seceded from the Union in order to keep slavery, resulting in more than 600,000 Americans killed. Exhibit B includes candidates actually shot during their campaigns, such as Theodore Roosevelt on October 14, 1912 (survived); Robert Kennedy on June 5, 1968 (killed); and George Wallace on May 5, 1972 (paralyzed). These abominations are far worse than anything seen recently.

In addition, let us attempt to describe for you some true-life examples of presidential election seasons when our politics were more divided and nastier than in the last two years:

John Adams v. Thomas Jefferson (1800). Adams was accused of having a “hideous character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Jefferson was called “the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”

Grover Cleveland v. James Blaine (1884). Cleveland was hounded by stories of his lecherousness and having fathered a child with a widow, for which he was taunted with shouts of “Ma! Ma! Where’s my pa?” Blaine was accused of shady dealings that resulted in the negative opposing campaign slogan of “Burn this letter! Burn this letter!”

Andrew Jackson v. John Quincy Adams (1824). Adams was called a “pimp” who had provided female companionship to the Russian czar. Jackson and his wife were accused of polygamy because they married before her divorce was finalized, and Jackson was labeled a murderer, traitor, and mentally unstable, with his mother termed a “prostitute.”

Abraham Lincoln v. Stephen A. Douglas (1860). Douglas was ridiculed as a “momma’s boy” for visiting his ill mother during the campaign, while Lincoln was the subject of overtly racist cartoons. Ultimately, Southerners plotted to assassinate Lincoln on the way to his inauguration, and he was in fact shot and killed early in his second term.

Lyndon Johnson v. Barry Goldwater (1964). This race ushered in the modern forms of negative campaigning through television ads, opposition research, and electronic recording devices. Candidates accused each other of being nuclear war mongers, having Ku Klux Klan links, and being comparable to Hitler.

Worse Then Does Not Make Now Ideal

Yes, things may have been worse, and we are grateful that campaign accusations today generally are less personal than some were in the past. We still need to remember our Midwestern humility and diligence, however, which traits require us to realize that “things always could be better,” too, causing us to strive for improvement.

As pointed out repeatedly in our ongoing blog posts, better and working toward ideal would rely on principles as the basis for political decisions and actions.

Written by Quentin R. Wittrock, founder of Principle Based Politics. 

Look for his posts each week, as this blog will explore and promote the idea of principle in politics, both as to individual elected leaders and our federal government as an institution.

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