Sunday, February 3, 2008 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Political discourse -- then vs. now

Whenever I hear some politician or political pundit lament the supposedly dismal state of political discourse in modern America, I always laugh. Anyone who has ever read a lick of history knows that politics has always been a dirty business full of plenty of under-handed antics and distasteful rhetoric.

I was reminded of this again this morning as I was reading through The Washington Post and saw various people complaining about the tone and tactics on display in this year's presidential primaries. Then, I flipped to the editorial page and saw an interesting essay entitled "Lincoln-Douglas: The Real Thing," by civil war era historian Allen C. Guelzo of Gettysburg College. It included the following gem of passage about the heated 1858 Senate campaign battle between Lincoln and Douglas:

A month into the campaign, lagging in visibility and short of funds, Lincoln challenged Douglas to a series of debates -- outdoors, unrehearsed -- in seven locations around the state. At a time when popular community entertainments included mano-a-mano encounters such as wrestling, horse racing and knife fighting, one-on-one debating seemed a perfectly natural forum for political contests, too. And the Lincoln-Douglas debates certainly had their share of entertaining features. Brass bands hired by Republicans and Democrats struggled to drown each other out. Banners with raw sexual innuendoes and crude racial insults billowed over the heads of the crowds. At one debate, someone shied a melon at Douglas and struck him on the shoulder.

Like I was saying, the more things change, the more things stay the same.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 11:15 AM | Generic Rant