Dirty Tricks

Since Halloween has passed, the storm is waning and the election is the next scary event on the schedule, I thought it might be appropriate to have a look at the history of elections, voting, and the complaints, real and made up, that they engender. It’s a long, and thoroughly reprehensible tale, even when confined to just American politics. But here we go.

When the country was founded, in most states, only white men with sufficient property or other wealth were permitted to vote. Freed African-American men could vote in four states. But unpropertied white men, almost all women, and all other people of color were denied the vote. By the 1860s, laws had changed and most white men were allowed to vote, whether or not they owned property. But there they drew the line. To prevent other changes, things like literacy tests, poll taxes, history and grammar questions and even religious tests were used in some places, and so most white women, people of color, and Native Americans still could not vote.

In the beginning the constitution was not much help. It took the Voting Rights Act of 1965 along with several constitutional amendments to work out what kinds of things could– and couldn’t keep you from voting. The 14th amendment, added in 1868, said you could vote if you were a citizen born or naturalized and lived here. The 15th, added in 1870, said you couldn’t be excluded by “Race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” When women couldn’t be persuaded by torture, jail, beatings and some deaths to stop insisting on their right to vote, the 19th amendment was added in 1920 to say people could no longer be excluded “On account of sex” – Native Americans were added in 1924. It took until 1961 for residents of Washington, DC to be allowed to vote in presidential elections. The voting rights act of 1965 took further steps to protect the rights of minorities and the poor.

That’s the story of the law. But according to custom, in George Washington’s time it was considered acceptable to persuade voters by getting them drunk and “encouraging”  them to vote for your side.

Opponents also let it be known that Thomas Jefferson was someone with “atheistic” tendencies and a lover of the French revolution, in other words godless and bloodthirsty.

In the 1800 race between Jefferson and John Adams, the Connecticut Courant reported that if Jefferson won, “murder, rape, robbery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced.” Reportedly New Englanders hid their Bibles for fear that the infidel Jefferson would declare them illegal if elected. In 1828, supporters of John Quincy Adams called Andrew Jackson a murderer and a cannibal. They accused Mrs. Jackson of being a whore.

Politics became personal very fast. In the 1828 election, a Republican pamphlet said Democrat Andrew Jackson was “a gambler, a cock-fight, a slave trader and the husband of a really fat wife,” an insult for which he never forgave his opponents.

Other than name calling, the idea of planned political election tricks showed up in the presidential election of James Polk when an opponent released the  story that Polk’s slaves  had been branded with Polk’s initials and that he had sold slaves in order to raise campaign  cash. it wasn’t true.
Martin Van Buren was accused of wearing women’s corsets  — by Davy Crockett, and Abraham Lincoln was accused of having “stinky feet,” I searched but could find no historical records to verify or deny either.
After the Civil War, Southern Democrats used grandfather clauses, poll taxes and other legal  and illegal maneuvers involving the Ku Klux Klan) to keep blacks from getting to the polls.
They justified the disenfranchisement African-Americans “as a way to reform and purify the electoral process, to root out fraud and bribery.”  Sound familiar?

Both Presidents Garfield and Cleveland’s campaigns were plagued by the mysterious appearance of letters, later found to be forged, implicating them in nefarious practices. Garfield prevailed. Cleveland lost his reelection bid

But those things didn’t hold a candle to the kinds of hijinks that started in 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson faced off against Republican Senator Barry Goldwater. To defeat Goldwater, Johnson’s campaign specialists created a top-secret after-hours group known as the “anti-campaign” and “the five o’clock club.” Among the anti-Goldwater campaign tactics they employed was publishing a Goldwater joke book entitled You Can Die Laughing. They even created a children’s coloring book, in which kids could color pictures of Goldwater dressed in the robes of the Ku Klux Klan, while a CIA agent named E. Howard Hunt (remember him?) infiltrated Goldwater campaign headquarters, posed as a volunteer and purloined advance copies of Goldwater speeches and fed them to the White House.
Mayor Richard Daley Sr. is also widely credited with influencing Jack Kennedy’s  Presidential election by mobilizing an uncounted number of dead and non-existent Chicago residents to vote in that election
Perhaps the most famous of political tricksters in our time, and the funniest – was Dick Tuck. Tuck was a political consultant, writer and campaign strategist. He had worked on a number of democratic candidates over the years, among them Adlai Stevenson, John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.
Among Tuck’s most famous anti-Nixon stunts was during one of Nixon’s California gubernatorial campaigns. During one campaign stop, Tuck arranged for the train Nixon was speaking from to leave the station while Nixon was still talking. Tuck denied the act, but admitted he “might have waved.”

After the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960, Tuck hired an elderly woman who put on a Nixon button and embraced the candidate in front of TV cameras. She said, “Don’t worry, son! He beat you last night, but you’ll get him next time.”

And he kept at it.

In 1968, Tuck utilized Republican nominee Nixon’s campaign slogan against him; he hired a very pregnant African-American woman to wander around a Nixon rally in a predominantly white area, wearing a T-shirt that said, “Nixon’s the One!”

But Tuck wasn’t the only one. In 1972, voters received letters, “written on (Edmund) Muskie campaign stationery, stating (falsely) that Hubert Humphrey had been arrested for drunken driving in 1967.” Both lost to Richard Nixon.
In the 2000 Republican primary campaign, then-governor of Texas George W. Bush hired Warren Tompkins to ruin his opponent, John McCain. Tompkins and his team spread race-baiting rumours in South Carolina that McCain had secretly fathered a black lovechild (in fact his adopted Bangladeshi daughter Bridget). Bush also brought in Jeff Larson and his firm  to conduct robo-calls highlighting McCain’s “interracial child” and his wife Cindy’s addiction to prescription drugs.
At the time, McCain said of Larson and Tompkins that “there is a special place in hell for people like these.” He has since had a change of heart and hired Larson to run similar robo-calls against his 2008 presidential opponent, Barack Obama.
In the Bush-Gore contest, in addition to the botched recount. hundreds of thousands of African-Americans – who tend to vote Democrat – were wrongly purged from the electoral roll as felons, and accusations of legal strong-arming and conflicts of interests abounded. To this day, many Democrats believe that the election was stolen from Al Gore.

In addition to the Swift Boat Veterans (SBV) ads that attacked John Kerry’s military record with TV spots playing in key cities in the 2004 presidential campaign, actress Jane Fonda, disliked for her ’60s Vietnam War stance, Photoshopped into a 1971 photograph with John Kerry and the bogus picture circulated widely – and anonymously.

But as far as sheer humor goes, Dick Tuck has never been beaten.

Although he was never able to attain public office himself, he kept his humor intact. The one time he ran, he lost. And when asked for a comment about his loss he replied. “The people have spoken, the bastards.”

Not a bad line to keep around in case it’s needed after next Tuesday’s vote.

Note: Thes info in this post has been gleaned from several sources and not original material from Marideth Sisco.


About yarnspinnerpress

Story teller, retired journalist, author, folksinger, folklorist, gardener.
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3 Responses to Dirty Tricks

  1. Loved it! but as someone who lived in Chicago from the late sixties until the mid-eighties, ya didn’t even hit the tip of that political iceberg!!!

  2. Tom Kruzen says:

    Of course the hero of the 1% is riding on a wave of the amazing dumbing down of the country provided by Fox noise and a whole cast of unashamed liars, thieves and charlatans in Congress. Americans hardly know what civics is let alone words like “democracy” or “socialism”. Let’s hope truth will survive and the union won’t be destroyed tomorrow by the enemies domestic.

    • yarnspinnerpress says:

      And so it came to pass, Tom. May we never again forget this lesson, that while we sleep, there are dark things that would take away the light if let be. Vacation’s over. We gotta keep an eye on these folks and call them out when they drift away from this reality-based universe.

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