MORITZ: Politics is dirty business in every century | Archives

The president was attacked from all sides.

Its police, both domestic and military, were under fire. His legitimacy as president has been frequently questioned.

The opposition party had a field day, criticizing his every move. One newspaper called it a “joke incarnate”. A newspaper even made fun of her appearance. Even allies in his own party were beginning to criticize him.

We’re talking about President Bush, aren’t we?


Well, that must be Bill Clinton, right?

Try again.


Sorry. Still wrong.

Try Abraham Lincoln.

Yeah… Abe Lincoln. The Great Emancipator. The man many historians call our greatest president. The Gettysburg address, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Lincoln Memorial, the $5 bill and the penny. This Lincoln?

This Lincoln.

At times during his presidency, Lincoln was reviled not only by those in the South who seceded, but also by many members of the Union.

It’s a common thread through American history. With the exception of George Washington, who most scholars agree was loved by the country he helped create, every president has faced his share of criticism.

This, of course, includes President Bush.

In recent months, as criticism of Bush has intensified, many conservative commentators, including Charles Krauthammer and Bill OÞReilly, have claimed that he is the most hated sitting president in the nation’s history.

Which is an absurd notion.

Forget the last generation. Forget Watergate, Vietnam, the Clinton sex scandals. American history is filled with ugly political battles.

In the early Republic, it was not uncommon for the nation’s leaders to literally fight a pistol-type duel at dawn (Aaron Burr famously killed Alexander Hamilton).

Think campaigns are nasty these days? In the 1800s, these were often wild affairs. Nothing was on the table.

When Grover Cleveland was running for president, his opponents discovered that he had fathered a child out of wedlock years earlier while living in Buffalo. Cleveland, which financially supported the child and his mother (a widow), openly admitted that the story was true. That hasn’t stopped conservative religious leaders from castigating Cleveland, or stopped Republicans from chanting ßMa! Mom ! Where is my Pa?à in the Cleveland speeches.

As late as 1940, as Franklin Roosevelt was running for an unprecedented third term, the daughter of Alice Roosevelt Longworth and Theodore Roosevelt, who hated FDR, said, “I’d rather vote for Hitler.”

Then there is Lincoln.

During his first term, Lincoln was one of the most criticized presidents in our history. The South, of course, hated him. As the Union suffered defeat after defeat in the early years of the Civil War, northerners grew restless.

“His election was a very bad joke,” wrote the New York Herald. ßThe idea that such a man should be president of such a country is a very ridiculous joke…his emancipation proclamation was a joke.à

These stories are not meant to absolve those who hate President Bush so strongly. This isn’t about justifying what Vince Foster called “Washington’s blood sport.” The politics of hate does no one any good. They were destructive in the 18th century, they were destructive in the 19th century, and they are destructive today.

But the political world today is no more hateful than past generations.

It’s like the great old saying goes: history doesn’t repeat itself, it does rhyme.

(Brian Moritz, sports editor for the Times Herald, writes a weekly column for the Commentary page. He can be reached at [email protected])

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