Well, there were a lot of sweaty palms in my Democratic-minded New Jersey town, but Obama, in the end, carried it off, putting a fitting and dramatic capper on this most dramatic of election seasons. I ended up, Election Night, at a party where most present were drinking the odd concoction of ginger beer and rum, causing numerous sugary hangovers the next day, no doubt, but also leading to high spirits. Each time the CNN would call a state for Obama, applause broke out, and occasionally someone would run outside, shouting at the top of his or her lungs.
I voted for Hillary in the primaries, but over the summer and fall became impressed by the way Obama handled himself as John McCain's minions got more and more vicious in their attacks on him. My Ten Dirtiest Elections list (below) now officially includes 2008, entering in position number 10, having just pushed out the election of 1828 between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. 2008 managed to pull of this come-from-behind act due mainly to McCain's post Convention campaign commercials, which continually posed the question "Who is Barack Obama?" and answering by claiming he was a terrorist-supporter, a Muslim, a socialist--essentially, an alien. I thought it was interesting when people spoke about how honorable McCain's concession speech was. I do think the guy is personally a decent man, but you can't really run a campaign in which you use vicious slurs against your opponent and not have to take some responsibility for it. These things stick. A friend of mind, out canvassing for the Democrats in Columbus, Ohio, on Election Day, ran into a McCain supporter who claimed to believe that Obama, if he won, would insist on being sworn in with a Koran. My friend did not argue with him, overlong, because the man was holding a shovel, but it shows you what I've been saying all year--that smears glom on to the susceptible like glops of napalm jelly, and burn, burn, burn.
It is with sadness that I say farewell to the Election of 2008. Looking way back to the primaries, who can forget Mick Huckabee and his dog-torturing son, Mitt "the Mutt" Romney. John Edwards Whose Name Is Forever Mud, Bill Clinton's intemperance, Hillary's New Hampshire tears, and so much more. I want to thank everyone who bought a copy of Anything for a Vote or attended one of my talks, or emailed with questions and sometimes sharp commentary. I plan on updating the book for 2012 and something tells me that new 2008 chapter will run quite long.
I can't wait to write it.
Top Ten Dirtiest American Presidential Campaigns of All Time
10) 2008: Barack Obama vs. John McCain
There’s nothing like a black man with the middle name “Hussein” running for president to get the Republican base stirred up. Assaults on Obama included calling him a socialist, a terrorist, a Muslim, and even a Jew-hater (flyers in Florida claimed that a Holocaust in Israel would ensue if he was elected). In the meantime, Republicans attempted to “purify” voter rolls of misspelled names and wrong addresses, though Democrats suspected it was an attempt to knock off minority voters. In the end, nothing worked and Obama won a historic victory with the highest percentage of voters weighing in since 1964.
9) 1960: John F. Kennedy vs. Richard Nixon
The charismatic young Kennedy, backed by his father’s big bucks and a political organization that would stop at nothing, may have stolen this extremely close contest by manipulating the vote in Illinois and Texas.
8) 1928: Herbert Hoover vs. Al Smith
After reading about this election, most people want to take a good shower. The Republican party of the stiff-collared candidate of Middle America, Herbert Hoover, destroyed Governor Al Smith of New York by slurring his Catholic religion in every way possible. As if that wasn’t enough, they went after his wife, too.
7) 2004: George W. Bush vs. John Kerry
Extremely dirty, and possibly pilfered, the 2004 election featured attacks on Democratic candidate Kerry’s Vietnam war service, which were as scurrilous as they were effective. Republican operatives may have stolen the vote in Ohio, putting incumbent George Bush back in office for another four years.
6) 1988: George H. W. Bush vs. Michael Dukakis
Although 1988 did not feature a stolen election—no way, even in the most honest of contests, would Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis have beaten President George H. W. Bush—it is probably one of the sleaziest and most racist on record. Dukakis was ridiculed in Republican attack ads as a wimp who had allowed a black criminal on weekend furlough to go on a rampage of rape and violence.
5) 1972: Richard Nixon vs. George McGovern
The Republican incumbent Nixon brought out all the heavy guns here—dirty tricks to sow divisiveness among Democratic incumbents in the primaries, race-baiting, IRS intimidation of Democratic bigwigs, the Enemies List, press manipulation, and, of course, the Watergate burglary by the Special Investigations Unit, aka “the Plumbers.”
4) 1800: Thomas Jefferson vs. John Adams
Way back in only the third election ever held in this country, Thomas Jefferson of the Republicans and John Adams of the Federalists went at it tooth and nail, with Republicans hiring
hack writers to attack the incumbent Adams as a “hideous hermaphroditical character,” whatever
that means, and Federalists claiming that Jefferson slept with slaves. The close election was
thrown into the House of Representatives, where Jefferson almost certainly made a secret deal to win it.
3) 2000: George W. Bush vs. Al Gore
Surprisingly, not the low-down dirtiest election on record, but pretty bad, with Republicans acting in a truly narrow, partisan fashion at every stage to subvert the democratic process and hand victory to George W. Bush.
2) 1964: Lyndon Johnson vs. Barry Goldwater
Not as well known as Nixon’s 1972 dirty tricks election, Johnson’s 1964 win over Goldwater featured the cynical manufacturing of anti-Goldwater stories planted with gullible reporters; children’s coloring books portraying Goldwater as a Klansman; CIA invasion of Goldwater’s campaign; and FBI bugging of Goldwater’s campaign plane.
1) 1876: Rutherford Hayes vs. Samuel Tilden
This is the granddaddy of them all: a truly stolen election in which Republicans turned defeat into victory for Rutherford Hayes by counting Democratic votes as their own in three Southern states. Both parties used violence to intimidate former black slaves for their votes. And not to mention that Republicans extorted 2% of the salaries of Federal employees to aid in their campaign efforts, or that Democrats accused Hayes of shooting his mother and robbing the dead, or that Republicans claimed that Samuel Tilden suffered from a venereal disease.