In early 2014, the state of American politics is approaching
psychological and technological thresholds which will soon
become visible in new forms of day-to-day electoral combat.
That combat might test the patience of the many U.S. voters.
The psychological threshhold is not a new phenomenon.
Although most Americans are proud of the quality of free
elections in their country, especially when contrasted with
many other election systems in the rest of the world, there
is a long standing tradition in U.S. politics, going back to the
first national elections in 1796, and displayed subsequently,
of outrageous and varying levels of aggressive slanders,
unfair tactics, biased media coverage and cheating at the
The nineteenth century was an apotheosis of this kind of
electoral behavior, and although public opinion and the
maturing democratic republic diminished more obvious
wrongdoing in elections --- local, state and national --- the
rise of communications technology has submerged the
obvious pathologies into more subtle and less easily
In the aftermath of the outbreak of World War II, and its
postwar period, the nation enjoyed a certain “lowering of
political temperatures” as a “bipartisan” foreign policy arose
to meet the challenges of the Cold War against the Soviet
Union, and a certain level of civility emerged in domestic
policy, not only in elections, but in relationships between the
political parties and their elected officials. Much of this
resulted from a growing complexity of the two major political
parties, and a relatively small component of the electorate
considering itself independent.
In the past decade or so, however, the ideological make-up of
the Democratic and Republican Parties has become
increasingly homogenous, and a very large number of voters,
especially in the younger generations, have become disaffected
from the “official” party ideologies, and follow, under the rubric
of being “independents,” specialized ideological views of their
own on the left, the right and in the center.
Much has already been made, and rightly so, of the emergent
seemingly one-party states of the Union, and of the single
dominant ideologies in the various demographic areas in the
country. No longer is it simply north, south, northeast, midwest
and far west. It is complicated by inner urban, suburban,
exurban and rural.
The national media, which developed a certain standard of
studied “neutrality” and “objectivity” in the half century after
Hiroshima and Nagasaki closed World War II hostilities, has
regressed, albeit in the vastly expanded electronic media
environment, to 19th century levels of partisanship. I know it
will be provocative and upsetting to some Americans to learn
that there is virtually no longer any major media entity, i.e.,
newspaper, magazine, TV network, major online blog, or news
service, that maintains any more than a pretense of “neutrality,”
“objectivity,” or even most disturbingly, genuine “fairness” in
their political coverage. (That does not mean that individual
journalists fail to do so, but even for them, it is becoming
I always cite as my favorite example of 19th century journalism
the occasional notation under the headline of even some of the
most well-known U.S. newspapers during the Civil War, a
headline that might proclaim a totally false statement with the
sub-headline “INTERESTING IF TRUE!”
Sadly, that is becoming the state of current U.S. media and
politics, to wit, INTERESTING IF TRUE.
I bring up this sorry state of affairs now because we are already
embarked on a ruthless lead-up to the 2016 presidential election
with incipient campaigns ON ALL SIDES to defame candidates
The most obvious recent example is still underway. That is,
the political and media effort to destroy the political career
and presidential prospects of the frontrunning Republican
candidate for president New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
But lest I be thought too partisan, let me say a less obvious
but equally serious effort is being made against the
frontrunning Democratic presidential candidate Hillary
Clinton. Nor is it simply the left going after Mr. Christie; he is
also under attack from his right. Nor is it simply the right going
after Mrs. Clinton; she is also under attack from her left.
Of course, both Mr. Christie and Mrs. Clinton can be, and ought
to be, scrutinized for their views on domestic and foreign policy,
and for their performance in office. But that is apparently not
the political standard of the day. In 2012, the Democrats
(successfully) sold the nation the notion that Mitt Romney was
too rich and too out-of-touch to be president. (Remember where
he put the family dog on a family automobile trip?) In 2016, it is
no secret that Mr. Christie is going to be sold to the public as a
“bully.” At the same time, some Republicans are trying to sell
Mrs. Clinton as someone who maintains an “enemies” list,
and plays ruthlessly with anyone who stands in her way.
Among the primary reasons why both Mr. Christie and Mrs.
Clinton have risen to their present positions is the fact that they
are ambitious, aggressive and play political hardball. Even
granting for a moment that the worst case is true in the New
Jersey bridge closing controversy, it does not rise to the level of
disqualification for high office. While president of the United
States, Bill Clinton committed apparent perjury not only in court,
but before the entire nation on TV when he denied his true
relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Was his action praiseworthy?
Obviously no, but it did not rise to the level of conviction of
impeachment. (And who, twenty years later, is among the most
popular political figures in America.....?)
It might be healthy to do away with all the pretensions of “good
and evil” being foisted on the American voter by political party
strategists and operatives, and being reinforced by a hypocritical
media, but, of course, only the voters can insist on this, and the
truth is that they will not likely do so any time soon.
The 2014 campaign will be the preliminary for a brutal contest
in 2016. If the frontrunners can survive the mere slings and arrows
of these preliminaries, and the verbal sleights of hand contrived
against them, an even more vicious and daunting campaign for
president will ensue between both of them, or between one of
them and another, or (save the republic!) two other persons as yet
Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
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