Monday, June 30, 2008

Questioning a Candidate's Patriotism

In a speech Monday in Independence, Missouri, Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) defended his patriotism and promised he wouldn't question the patriotism of anyone else.

"I have found, for the first time, my patriotism challenged – at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears about who I am and what I stand for," Obama said. "I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign. And I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine."

Since this blog is about the founding era, I will withhold my thoughts on Senator Obama's patriotism. Instead, I want to politely point out that the attacks on Senator Obama are pale compared to those flung back and forth during presidential elections in the early part of our nation's history.

During George Washington's presidency, rival Cabinet members Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson employed paid and unpaid surrogates to hurl constant barrages of vicious accusations against each other. Washington almost refused a second term due to the mudfest, and chided his Cabinet members repeatedly to essentially grow up.

Things didn't get better upon Washington's retirement. The election of 1796 was rather unpleasant, and the election of 1800 was downright nasty. Thomas Jefferson was called everything from an atheist to a traitor, while John Adams was mocked and ridiculed as a befuddled "monarchist." (Oh, and as David McCullough points out, to be called a "monarchist" back then was like being called a "communist" in the 1950s).

Campaign vitriol is indeed nothing new, nor is questioning another's patriotism. It goes back to the beginning of our nation's history. This isn't to say that mudslinging is good for America. Just that it's been around for a while.

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