Tag Archives: voting

Mean-Spirited, Low-Lived Fellows Are Nothing New in American Politics

The Mount Rushmore Monument as seen from the v...
The Mount Rushmore Monument as seen from the viewing plaza. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Does Donald Trump have small hands? Is Ted Cruz a wimp (this is a family-oriented column, so I’m using that term instead of the word Trump used)? Are progressives who don’t support Hillary Clinton misogynists if they’re men and traitors to their sex if they’re women? The 2016 presidential race is a bumper crop of insults, with the usual accompanying cries for a “return to civility.”

Reality check: There’s no era of civility for American politics to return to. It’s always been a rough and tumble sport. Election campaigns have never consisted of  the candidates holding hands and singing “Kum Ba Ya” with an occasional break for  sober issues discussions.

In 1800, presidential challenger Thomas Jefferson’s supporters described sitting president John Adams as possessed of a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman. Adams’s supporters retorted that Jefferson was “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”

Andrew Jackson’s wife, Rachel, was the target of personal insults intended to politically damage him from well before his presidency. Jackson killed one critic, Charles Dickinson, in a duel after Dickinson insulted her and accused him of cheating in a horse race.

In 1836, Martin van Buren’s opponents spread a rumor that he was the illegitimate son of former vice-president Aaron Burr, who had also famously killed someone (Alexander Hamilton) in a duel and had been tried for treason.

In 1884, supporters of Grover Cleveland chanted “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine!” Blaine supporters responded with “Ma, Ma, where’s my Paw? Gone to the White House, Haw, Haw, Haw!” referring to the (true) rumor that Cleveland had fathered a child out of wedlock.

If you’ve been around long, you may have heard that George W. Bush was a cocaine fiend with a suppressed arrest record, that John McCain’s adopted kids are actually the children of his affairs, that Al Gore got preferential treatment in Vietnam because he was a Senator’s son, and that Barack Obama is from Kenya.

It’s ALWAYS been dirty, folks. Like Finley Peter Dunne said, “politics ain’t beanbag.” Why? Because politicians want to win. There’s an apocryphal tale of Lyndon Baines Johnson, in a pre-presidential campaign, suggesting that a press release be put out accusing his opponent of having sex with pigs. When a staffer objected that it wasn’t true, LBJ supposedly replied “I know … but let’s make him DENY it.”

I’ll be the last person to suggest that there are no real scandals  to be considered when evaluating candidates for public office. There certainly are. So pay attention. You may learn something important.

But when you’ve cleared the deck of the rumors and insults, what’s left is what matters. Do you agree with the candidate’s positions? Do you trust the candidate to tell the truth about the issues and to have the backbone to do the right thing? Choose carefully and vote accordingly.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Election 2016: They Don’t Own Your Vote

GI voting in Guantanamo
GI voting in Guantanamo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With large blocs of Republican and Democratic voters vowing to abandon their parties rather than vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in November — and in the GOP, even some party establishment figures mulling an alternative ticket if Trump takes the nomination — the “wasted vote” argument is peaking earlier than usual this year.

We hear it every election cycle, all cycle long, but the heat wave of patronizing rhetoric usually crests in early October as the poll numbers of third party and independent candidates evaporate beneath its glow. It goes something like this:

“A vote for anyone but the Republican is a vote for the Democrat!”

“A vote for anyone but the Democrat is a vote for the Republican!”

“A vote for any candidate but my candidate is a vote for the candidate who’s worse than my candidate!”

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good!”

“Don’t be a spoiler!”

“Don’t waste your vote!”

The subtext of this line of campaign propaganda is actually pretty ugly. The people telling you to vote for a candidate you don’t prefer rather than for the candidate you do prefer are telling you that your vote really belongs to the candidate THEY prefer. Third party and independent candidates “steal” their votes from the big dogs, with you, the voter, as their accomplice.

Seems pretty arrogant when you look at it that way, doesn’t it? Well, it doesn’t just seem that way. It IS that way.

I suppose there’s a case to be made for strategic voting. If I think that Candidate A is just a wee little bit not as bad as Candidate B, I might decide to vote for Candidate A instead of Candidate C who “can’t win.”

Or maybe not.

Maybe I’d rather vote for what I want instead of voting against what I fear.

Maybe I’d rather not vote at all than choose from among a gang of grifters I wouldn’t leave alone in a room with my wallet or my daughter, let alone the codes used to arm nuclear missiles.

The candidates don’t own your vote. The parties don’t own your vote. Until you cast your ballot and give that vote to the candidate or party of YOUR choice, it’s YOURS, not THEIRS.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Not now, not in November, not ever. Vote your own conscience and let the chips fall where they may.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Election 2016: Rage Against the Voting Machines

RGBStock.com Vote Pencil

It’s not news to anyone that American elections have become long, costly, complicated, time-consuming affairs. Each campaign begins the day after the previous election, swamping news cycles and distorting public dialog for two to four years.

Of all the activities involved in the ongoing drama of politics, one should be quite simple: The final, affirmative act of casting a vote. Instead, voting has become more and more difficult, more and more complicated, and more and more subject to counting error over the years.

Sarah Breitenbach of the Pew Charitable Trust’s Stateline project reports on a developing backlash against the problems of fragile high-tech voting systems. After Florida’s “hanging chad” debacle in 2000, most states and cities moved to new, theoretically easier to use, but technologically more complex, voting machines. Those machines came with their own problems, including very real fears that election results could be (and perhaps were) hacked and manipulated.

More than a decade later, after years of acrimonious debate, close elections turning on questionable vote counts, and concerns about close relationships between politicians and  voting machine manufacturers, this generation of machines is on its last legs and the search is on for replacements.

In that search, election authorities seem to largely be looking to the past. “Optical mark recognition” technology — the hand-marked “fill in the circle next to your choice” ballot familiar to every public school student since the 1960s — turns out to still be cheaper, more reliable, easier for voters to figure out, and hopefully more secure and trustworthy.

In truth, voting could be made simpler still. Many countries, by no means all of them lagging the US tech-wise, still use their eyes to scan and their hands to count plain old-fashioned paper ballots. For that matter, it still happens that way in parts of the US, as everyone who closely watched coverage of the Iowa caucuses on February 1 saw on their television screens.

In 1864, America conducted a presidential election in the midst of civil war. The polling places were crowded with soldiers furloughed so they could vote. The ballots weren’t just hand-marked and hand-counted, but weren’t even standardized or printed by the government . Voters could get ballots from their candidates or parties of choice, or hand-write their own. The results were reported by telegraph. And yet the results were known by midnight on Election Day.

Voting could, and should, be that simple again.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.