- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2000

Maybe it's time to replace the eagle with the gelding as the symbol of the republic.
Some of us who grew up in an earlier America when slash and burn campaigning was the summer's entertainment never dreamed a presidential race would come down to two old fighter pilots complaining about something called "negative politics." (What other kind is there?)
Sticks and stones broke John McCain's bones, and he took the breath of his vermin captors in his face and never flinched, but a television commercial reduces him to hurt feelings.
George W., who roughnecked in Texas oil fields and flew fighters for the Texas Air National Guard and kept Galveston safe from enemies foreign and domestic, swoons when John McCain compares him to Bill Clinton.
Al Gore and Bill Bradley weep over insults so mild nobody remembers them. Gary Bauer, desperate for an affront, called a press conference to complain that someone was about to accuse him of winking his eye at a pretty girl.
It's true, even an ordinary television commercial can curdle a strong man's stomach, and hearing your honor and integrity compared to Bill Clinton's is harder to take than a stick in the eye, but does anybody really take any of this "negative stuff" as seriously as these guys do? Andrew Jackson called John Quincy Adams a pimp, and named the czar of Russia as his client. Adams called Rachel Jackson an adulterer. (Nobody thought the campaign of '28 was particularly negative.)
"I will not take the low road to the highest office in this land," Mr. McCain told his concession rally in South Carolina the other night. "I want the presidency in the best way, not the worst way. As this campaign moves forward, a clear choice will be offered a choice between my optimistic and welcoming conservatism and the negative message of fear … a choice between experience and pretense."
Pretty good stuff, but a little odd for a Republican to say about another Republican. Al Gore's speech writers should file these remarks to use in Al's acceptance speech in Los Angeles in August. But what reduced the governor to tears of anger was the comparison to Bill Clinton.
George W., understandably miffed that anyone could think that he, a proud Texan, was anything like Mr. Clinton, a shameless New Yorker, unaccountably made his own hurt feelings the centerpiece of his South Carolina campaign. Since it worked, we'll no doubt see a lot more of the politics of effrontery.
Before the dawn of the Gelded Age it took more than words to wound a candidate, even a candidate for governor or the U.S. Senate. An insurgent candidate in Tennessee, fighting the established order much like John McCain, scheduled a climactic campaign rally for Memphis. Ed Crump, the boss of Shelby County for nearly a half-century and the reigning power in Tennessee for much of that time, did not appreciate the insurgent coming into his town. He liked neither his politics nor the cut of his jib. But the insurgent, perhaps inspired by the words of W.C. Handy's old blues anthem to Memphis ("We don't care what Mr. Crump don't allow, we gonna barrel house anyhow … "), insisted.
So on the appointed night, as the crowds gathered at the county fairgrounds, the railroads into Memphis the Illinois Central, the Frisco, the NC&StL;, the L&N;, the Southern, the Rock Island, the Cotton Belt, the MoPac were "invited" to send switch engines and dozens of freight cars to the yards adjoining the fairgrounds. And there, for the next two hours, they made up train after train to nowhere. The din of the cars banging into one another, the mournful cry of the steam whistles, the screech of brakes, was ferocious. The rally was ruined. The insurgent lost. Now that's negative campaigning.
Bill Clinton, the man who brought dirty tricks and sleazy politics across the bridge to our new millennium, trashing his home folks on the way to trashing the Oval Office, actually offers a little context for the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth in our effete media age.
"You know," he said to grieving reporters the other day, "one candidate says this about the other's record, then one complains about how the other one interprets his record, and all that kind of stuff. I have never seen a hard-fought political race where candidates did not disagree with their opponent's characterization of their record and their positions. That's part of the debate, and it's always going to happen… ."
And what does he think of Al, Bill, George W., John and most eloquently Alan Keyes telling one and all what a slimeball they think Bill Clinton is?
"Well," replied the president, a pol who appreciates irony, "if I were running, I'd do that."
You can bet he would, too.

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