"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Saturday, February 11, 2012

25 Highlights in the Country of ‘Mudslingers’

Disclaimer: The following preface to my review of Professor Swint’s book includes an instance of profanity.

Preface: I live in a country where the President is accused by Republicans of inciting class warfare because he asks the rich to pay more in taxes. He does this with the goal of achieving decent society for all. Yet, at the same time many of those same Republicans make or accept six and seven-figure donations, often anonymously, to super PACs. These ideological brothels then broadcast manipulative and spurious advertising aimed at the same middle and lower classes that the President is trying to help. In this context, to say that our current President is the main threat to freedom and equality in this country is to insult my intelligence.

So to super PACs—left and right—I say this: go fuck yourselves. I regard you as rich, grumpy cowards. My name is Jake Christensen. And when I make political contributions, I sign my name.

Mudslingers: The Twenty-Five Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All TimeMudslingers: The Twenty-Five Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time by Kerwin Swint
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Voters have come to expect dirty politics and negative ads…” reads a line from the back of Professor Kerwin Swint’s Mudslingers: The Twenty-Five Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time. I wonder if it would be more appropriate to say that voters have come to settle for negative campaigning. Such injurious behavior seems to constitute not the underbelly, but rather the bareback of American politics. At any rate, Dr. Swint provides a stimulating highlight reel of sorts with Mudslingers. Whatever spin you take, dirtiness and negativity have been status quo since the founding fathers started bitterly founding alongside each other.

As it turns out, our nation almost foundered while John Adams and Thomas Jefferson fought it out for the presidency. The vicious back and forth of their campaigns culminated in a disputed election. Ever since, the political process has played out in vitriolic fashion. For example, according to Swint the last explicitly racial campaign was just a few decades ago. And implicitly racial campaigning? Turn on your TV.

Mudslingers is not deep scholarship. Doing justice to 25 different campaigns in less than 300 pages takes a lot of summarizing. The upside of this approach is that it results in an accessible and informative work that political laypersons like me can sink our teeth into. Furthermore, the author does not limit himself to presidential campaigns. Campaigns for senate, governor and mayor are explored, including a chapter dedicated to a primary instead of a general election. This gives the reader a chance to peer inside political machines while also getting a palatable dose of American history.

This book isn’t a veritable masterpiece of scholarship. The content is sometimes cursory and in at least one case outright underdeveloped. Swint asserts that the 1934 gubernatorial race for California actually brought the state to the brink of civil war. But his physical evidence for this nearly-martial crisis is lacking. However, by and large I found myself broadening my perspective via a great deal of compelling material. So I do recommend this book. And if you are in the market for well-informed political ruminations, consider looking up @KerwinSwint the next time you are on Twitter.

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