You know the phrase—there's nothing new under the sun. Narrow that down a little, and you can safely say there's nothing new in American politics even when we think we're making history.
I have been reading Charles Osgood's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House, a book full of odd stories about presidential campaigns from Truman through Bush's second term. It seems fumbles, lies, dirt flinging, and snide remarks about political opponents have always been part of running for office.
When Adlai Stevenson was running against Eisenhower, he was accused of being a socialist. Sound familiar? The phrase used against him was actually "creeping Socialism." He said in his defense, "I am no more in favor of Socialism than anybody else, and I particularly dislike things that creep. But if I don't like what they call creeping Socialism, there is something else I dislike just as much, and that is galloping reaction."
In 1976, when Morris Udall was running against Carter in the primaries, he said, "Carter was the first politician in memory to come complete with halo." When he lost in the primaries, Udall said, "The voters have spoken—the bastards!"
Gerald Ford was running for the republican ticket that same year, and Lyndon Johnson said of him, "So dumb, he can't fart and chew gum at the same time."
When Jack Kemp was running in the primaries in 1988, he said of his opponent Bob Dole, "In a recent fire, Bob Dole's library burned down. Both books were lost. And he hadn't even finished coloring one of them yet."
That year Dan Quayle was Bush's running mate. There are so many quotes to choose from to represent Quayle, but we'll just say this: "One word sums up probably the responsibility of any vice president, and that one word is 'to be prepared.' "
"The media is backing off Dan Quayle," said comedian Mark Russell, "They're afraid of another backlash. So they're only asking him questions they think he can handle. Like, how many teams are in the Big 10?" Criticizing the media for asking difficult questions is an old trick, apparently.
The term "pit bull" isn't new either. Quayle was described as being Bush's pit bull, and to that Bill Clinton said, "That's got every fire hydrant in America worried."
And finally, one more comment that should sound familiar: Mike Royko, Chicago's curmudgeonly editorialist, said of Bob Dole, "It's Dole's misfortune that when he does smile, he looks as if he's just evicted a widow."
So, when you think you can't stand one more minute of this never-ending presidential campaign, or if you think it's never been dirtier or pettier or more off topic when it comes to the real issues that are eating us alive, just think about our campaign history. It's old news.