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"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.

Dead 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.

5
Misleading Attacks

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.

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4
Attack the Family! (Ignore the Issues)

Where You See it Today:

Here's a story about Sarah Palin's daughter. And here's one about Obama's wife.

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.

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3
Elitists = Shitheads

Where You See it Today:

There's a new story every week about how Obama is too smart or well-spoken or generally too "elitist" while some other story points out how accessible McCain seems, or how Sarah Palin's functional retardation makes her more relatable.

Who Made it Cool:

Whenever a presidential candidate speaks well or seems particularly clean, the immediate strategy of that candidate's opponent is to trash them as elitist, someone who thinks he's better than the hardworking, God-fearing general public.

In 1840, this was taken to an awesome, hilarious extreme. The nominee for the Whig party, the old-as-shit William Henry Harrison, gave himself the label of the "Log Cabin and Hard Cider candidate." Basically Joe Six Pack. The plan of course was to make the opposing Democrats and Martin Van Buren look like a bunch of elitist aristocrats.


Van Buren, seen here drinking champagne. As a cartoon.

There were fliers of Harrison positioned next to log cabins to demonstrate his down-to-earth authenticity. They had parades full of log cabin floats to celebrate Harrison. The business of log-cabin-shaped whiskey flasks fucking exploded. Had "I keep my shit real" been a relevant expression at the time, Harrison would've been widely acknowledged for the extreme realness with which he kept his shit.


"So real, you guys."

The people absolutely loved it.

But here's the thing: Harrison's shit was far from real; it was practically hologram shit. Harrison didn't live in a log cabin or drink hard cider. He had acres and acres of land. He lived in Ohio. In a mansion. Did that stop anyone from praising his log-cabin-ness? Absolutely not.

People were so excited about how real Harrison kept his shit, no one seemed to care that he didn't actually run on a platform that expressed a single view or opinion about anything. Honestly. His campaign manager's main strategy was "Let no committee, no convention, no town meeting extract from him a single word about what he thinks now or what he will do hereafter." That is a direct quote.

So, with all this praise for Harrison, what was being said about Van Buren, the incumbent president? Well, his opponents launched the most scathing attacks imaginable when it was revealed that Van Buren installed a bathtub in the White House. Apparently in the 1840s, only pimps and vampires bathed. Or you'd think so seeing how the public lost their shit over this.


You had to be there.

As absurd as it is to attack someone for regularly bathing, it worked. In the end, 78 percent of the voters chose Harrison. Van Buren left the White House after one term, disgraced and offensively clean.

But the joke was on everyone, because, after taking office, Harrison died inside a month and his successor, John Tyler (described as a "poor, miserable, despised imbecile" and given the nickname "His Accidency") took over the White House. Tyler was one of the most hated presidents of all time and was nearly impeached.

Why did we bring that up? No reason at all. Really.

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2
Elections Can Be Stolen

Where You See it Today:

Well, we're gonna have to wait about a month to know for sure on this one. Sorry, but if you're desperate to find an example of a modern stolen election, we just don't know what to tell you.

Who Made it Cool:

1876 saw the end of the Grant administration, one of the most corrupt in American history. At a time when reform was important, the Democrats responded by nominating Samuel Tilden, the governor of New York who was already an established successful reformer and an enemy of corruption.

At the time Republicans weren't as fond of words like "successful" and "reformer," and preferred to nominate "some guy." Hey, look, Rutherford Hayes is some guy. Okay, him.

If Hayes had any opinions, he kept them to himself. Hayes was chosen not for his policies or his ability to speak or his track record, but because, up to that point, he hadn't stolen anything or pissed anyone off. Hayes was described by Henry Adams as "a third-rate nonentity, whose only recommendation is that he is obnoxious to no one." Not obnoxious? What more can we ask for? Let's make him president.

For Hayes' Vice President, Congressman William Wheeler was chosen despite the fact that Hayes had no idea who he was and the two had never met until weeks after the nomination. Why not? They really just didn't give a shit.

So the results start coming in on Election Day, and Tilden is winning. Several newspapers announced Tilden's victory. Hayes even wrote a letter of concession. Sure, there were, like, four states left to count, but it was estimated that they would almost certainly favor Tilden. The election was in the bag!

Not quite. Republican agents were mobilized to make sure everyone voted in those states, with most of the agents armed with hundreds of thousands of dollars to make sure everyone voted correctly. Some votes in favor of Tilden were disputed, and by "disputed" we mean they were thrown in the trash (in Key West, Florida, for example, an entire box of votes that had Tilden ahead of Hayes 401-59 were tossed).


Tilden, seen here staring at a trash can, where the Tilden votes were "stored."

After weeks of bribery and madness, a committee was chosen to decide the election. The committee just happened to feature eight Republicans against the seven Democrats, and they just happened to vote in favor of Hayes. So, nominated for his history of not stealing, Rutherford B. Hayes stole the shit out of the presidency.

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1
The Presidential Election is a Total Crap Shoot

Where You See it Today:

Uhh...everywhere.

Who Made it Cool:

Incredibly, none of the above have gone down as the dumbest campaign in history. The one that takes the title got a lot of help from the political media, which was just as sensationalizing and incompetent 124 years ago.

In 1884 the insanely corrupt James G. Blaine ran against the Grover "The Only Thing Anyone Remembers About Me From History Class is that I Served Two Nonconsecutive Terms" Cleveland.


Here's Blaine, beating up some Chinese people for no reason.

For a while, all that was said of Grover Cleveland was that he was remarkably fat (which was true) until the Buffalo Telegraph published a story detailing Cleveland's dark history. According to the article, he had an affair with a widow named Maria Halphin, who had borne a child. Suddenly, Cleveland wasn't fat anymore. He was an adulterous, drunk, bastard-producing bastard with "no business running for president." (Also, fat.)

The media, ever the short sited and loud mouthed guardian of the political system, took this and ran with it, maintaining that, if elected, Cleveland would bring his "harlots" with him to the White House. Soon, every fatherless child was believed to be Cleveland's, with mothers everywhere coming out of the woodwork with sob stories. It was getting closer to election time and it looked like Blaine was going to win, even though he was horribly corrupt and inept as a politician, because that was still better than some fat, drunken bastard-machine.


Whoremonger.

The truth was that Halphin did have a kid. Cleveland didn't know if it was his or not, but he still paid child support to Halphin regularly, just in case. He never claimed anything to the contrary. But, that story wasn't as loud and juicy and boob-filled as the story that his opponents were spreading, so it simply didn't stick.

It almost worked, too. The electoral votes had Cleveland at 183 and Blaine at 182, with New York still left to count. Blaine was the heavy favorite to win New York, while Cleveland was just heavy. And then a miracle intervened.

On Election Day, a remarkably huge rainstorm hit upstate New York, home to tons and tons of Republican voters at the time who, as a result of the pouring, stayed home instead of voting that day. Blaine lost New York and the election.

So, in American Politics, even when one candidate is honest, decent and fit for office, he can't beat a corrupt, manipulative inept politician for the highest office our country has to offer on his own. He needs a bizarre weather pattern to back him up.

So ... were we supposed to learn something from this? What's the lesson, here? Pray for rain? Anyone can grow up to become president, provided they have a weather machine? Maybe the lesson is just that the system doesn't work. In which case, no, no we haven't learned a thing.

If you liked that enjoy Dan's look at The 5 Most Badass Presidents of All-Time. Or read Dan's real-time reactions to The 19 Most Ridiculous Moments From the VP Debate.

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