"Politics sure have gone down the shitter this election," is what you've probably been saying to yourself for the last 15 months. But you know what? You're wrong.
Oh, it's not that politics aren't in the shitter. It's that they were already there. With one month left, the current candidates might have to kick it into overdrive if they hope to out-crazy some of pioneers of absurd campaigning.
Where You See it Today:
Have you seen the McCain ad about Obama wanting to teach sex education to kindergarteners?
Who Made it Cool:
The very first few elections in American history were fairly tame (who's going to run an attack ad against George freaking Washington?) and even the election of 1796, the first between Adams and Jefferson, was pretty straightforward. Complex issues were at stake, sure, but there were a lot of well-thought-out and articulate pamphlets circulating to try to inform the voters about the various candidates. Issues were discussed.
When the election of 1800 rolled around, again between Adams (now president) and Jefferson (his vice), someone stood up and said "How about we just make up shit about the other guy?" A revolutionary idea was born, and it changed American politics forever.
So President Adams' team sent out pamphlets saying if Jefferson was elected he would destroy Christianity, and that, "prostitutes...will preside in the sanctuaries now devoted to the worship of the Most High."
"Guys, I want you to meet our new Pope. She's a Virgo. Loves anal.
When the threat of an all-hooker church wasn't effective enough to destroy Jefferson's career, Adams' Federalists stepped up their game, explaining that Jefferson's America would involve the "teaching of murder robbery, rape, adultery and incest". Thomas Jefferson wants "murder robbery" taught in our elementary schools, people!
Jefferson knew that the Federalists were hurling bullshit and, not to be outdone, he actually went out and hired a professional bullshit-hurler, James Callendar. Armed with nothing but an incredible imagination and a total lack of morals, Callendar effectively convinced a good portion of America that Adams "desperately wanted to attack France" and would if reelected (Americans still liked the French back then, for helping us with the Revolutionary War and all).
James Callendar Man.
This election set the standard for filthy, misleading campaigning. The technique of taking a real quote (Jefferson saying he believes the current religious institutions lead to corruption) and exaggerating it to the point of absurdity (Jefferson wants to blow up Christianity and eat the baby Jesus) was born, and used in every single election since.
4Attack the Family! (Ignore the Issues)
Where You See it Today:
Who Made it Cool:
John Quincy Adams was happy to inherit the mudslinging smear tactics pioneered by his father years earlier. Adams was going up against Andrew Jackson and, since Adams was pretty corrupt himself, he figured the best approach was to smear Jackson's family and accuse him of murder. The man did not do things half way.
Adams' campaign distributed the Coffin Handbill, a pamphlet which claimed Jackson (being a lunatic) killed six innocent soldiers in New Orleans for absolutely no reason. Now in reality Jackson was a little insane and, sure, he probably personally killed a ton of people for no reason. But in this case the soldiers were guilty of robbery, arson, mutiny and desertion. They were tried, found guilty and executed, as was the custom of the time. None of those details were considered important enough to include in the pamphlet, of course.
Still, deliberately misleading voters by ignoring details wasn't enough for the Adams side, so they resorted to cheap, schoolyard dickery. The Cincinnati Gazette was sent an "anonymous" tip (which it promptly printed) saying "General Jackson's mother was a COMMON PROSTITUTE," (capital letters theirs, not ours), and that his father was "a MULATTO MAN."
Worst of all, the Gazette broke a story about Jackson's wife, Rachel. The paper explained that Jackson and Rachel got married even though Rachel was still married to some other guy, making both of them adulterers. In reality it was just a matter of confusion over the divorce papers, but still the accusations of adultery were so hurtful to Rachel that she eventually became ill and died as a result of the stress and humiliation (so, uh...point Adams, we guess).
"I'll kill your wife, I don't even care."
Finally, in what has to be the least subtle negative ad technique in history, Adams' people distributed flyers that said, "Jackson is to be President, and you will be HANGED." It's true! Jackson is running for president on a platform of Murdering Everyone. That he even got the nomination in the first place is just a shocking oversight on everybody's part.
Jackson did win the election, but became bitter and, if possible, even more crazy than he already was as a result.