- Associated Press - Monday, August 16, 2010

Name-calling is a winner this campaign season. By a landslide.

In Illinois, dueling political wordsmiths long ago cast the Senate race as a choice between a “mob banker” and a “serial liar.”

The rivals are more generally known as Alexi Giannoulias, the Democrat, and Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, the Republican. One of them will soon trade in his label for another: the distinguished senator from Illinois.

Then there’s Connecticut, and a statement from the Democratic National Committee that refers to the Republican Senate candidate as Linda “crotch-kicker” McMahon. Asked about his choice of words, spokesman Brad Woodhouse said in an e-mail: “Well - her opponent ran that ad … showing her doing it.” She is a former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment.

In the current election environment, calling an opponent extreme evidently isn’t sufficient. The latest television commercial for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, attacks Republican challenger Sharron Angle as “too extreme.”

Political insults are as old as America itself, morphing into ever-new forms as television, the Internet, bloggers and Twitter replaced more technologically primitive forms of communication.

Then, as now, they were intended to render a target loathsome.

“[James] Garfield has shown that he is not possessed of the backbone of an angleworm,” said Ulysses S. Grant, one president speaking ill of another.

William McKinley “has no more backbone than a chocolate eclair,” said Theodore Roosevelt, speaking of a man whom he served as vice president. Perhaps that partnership - and the fact that Roosevelt moved into the White House when McKinley died - led him to add that he had twice voted for the man he derided.

But as the technology has become less primitive, name-calling seems more so.

Instead of attacking a politician’s views, many critics now choose to call the politician names and leave it at that.

As in Kentucky, where Republicans recently aimed a sour shout-out at Jack Conway. The Democrat running for the Senate is “a mudslinging liberal trial lawyer,” they said. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s three separate insults in a single phrase.

Hypocrisy is also in this year.

Or at least allegations of it.

When Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal aired his first television commercial of the fall campaign, the Republican Senate campaign committee swiftly announced that his “hypocrisy is astonishing.”

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