Roaming around a bookstore we found a book that probably only a political junkie would bother to examine and buy. “Slinging Mud” by Rosemarie Ostler never made the best seller list that we are aware of, but it’s a paperback that is the result of considerable research into American politics.
It chronicles the rude nicknames, scurrilous slogans, and insulting slang, as the author describes the contents, that have emerged since the Founding Fathers declared this country of ours a republic. It was copyrighted in 2011 so it’s relatively new. However, much of the content is not new except to the nonreaders of American history. Ostler is the author of “Let’s Talk Turnkey” and has written articles for many national publications.
It stirs interest because, as everybody should know, this is an election year. The mudslinging already has begun and in the presidential primary and general elections a new record will be spent on advertising by candidates. The misleading and even false information about candidates began some months ago.
In the prologue, the author said much is said today and in yesteryears about the loss of civility in public discourse, “apparently under the impression that the political campaigns of earlier years were conducted with utmost courtesy and decorum. Actually, mudslinging is a venerable American tradition, on a par with baseball and apple pie. Politicians have been going negative since the days of the Founding Fathers.”
Even our Founding Father George Washington had his detractors, as the author points out. Several of the earlier political writers called him “cheapskate, a horse beater, a gambler, a tyrannical monster, a crocodile, a hyena, a spoiled child and a most horrid swearer and blasphemer” among other epithets.
Thomas Jefferson was accused of being “an apostle of anarchy, a demagogue, a trickster and a Franco-maniac.” An editorial in an early publication asked readers: “Are you prepared to see your dwellings in flames... female chastity violated, or children writhing on the pike?” Another editorial warned: “Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught... the soil will be soaked with blood, and nation black with crime.”
Today’s slinging of mud pales in comparison with those times in American history. However, today there always is the threat of lawsuits and that brings caution to the winds of the slinging of mud creativity in blasting a politician and/or candidate.
It can be said with some accuracy there is a much calmer sea of words in the political discourse of today.
The big difference today, according to Ostler, is “the proliferation of talking heads on radio and television, not to mention the Internet’s capability for instant scandal mongering, ensuring that the smallest misspoken word or most trivial piece of negative gossip would get instant worldwide play.”
Sometimes the negative nicknames given to incumbents and challengers stick but don’t kill. An example is Bill Clinton who was given the nickname of Bubba, Ostler wrote that Southerners use the word both as a term of affection and in the political context of a negative stereotype — the reactionary, racist Southern man. It didn’t prevent Clinton from being elected president twice.
One of the more recent campaign negative tags that became attached to a candidate was in 2004 when Republican George W. Bush ran for re-election against John Kerry, Democrat. Kerry’s Vietnam War medals and service came under attack. There was much criticism aimed at Kerry about the medals he received.
He commanded what was called a Swift Boat, which led to a Political Action Committee called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which ran a series of TV ads attacking his Vietnam service, saying he lied about his service and didn’t deserve the medals. One story that circulated was that Kerry was such a complainer that he was approved for medals just to get him to shut up, and to get rid of him because they felt he was in Vietnam only to help his political career.
Ostler wrote that those who fear for the future “can take heart from the realization that at least things aren’t getting worse.” She added: “Mudslinging is simply part of that time-honored democratic process — the American way of politics.”