There will be mud | Chuck's World
I’m not particularly interested in this year’s general election, which is not to say that I’m uninterested. Just not particularly.
That is, I pay a lot of attention to it. I just don’t feel compelled or even vaguely inspired to say anything about it, here or anywhere else.
Part of this has to do with the nature of this year’s presidential race. Part of it has to do with the democratic nature of opinion in our current culture, in which thoughtful and informed voices are drowned out by status updates from people we knew in high school.
Going on Facebook these days is like getting stuck at a traffic light behind a car with an obnoxious bumper sticker. Sometimes the better part of valor is looking away.
One of those thoughtful and informed voices belongs to John Dickerson, the former White House correspondent for Time magazine and now political director for CBS News, who hosts “Face the Nation” and comes by it naturally.
His mother was Nancy Dickerson, the first female correspondent for CBS (and the first woman in broadcast history to report from a convention floor).
Dickerson wrote a book about his mother, who passed away in 1997, called “On The Trail,” and a couple of years ago he began a podcast, “Whistlestop,” in which he passed along a passion for stories from presidential campaign history.
This is a passion I share, which is why I listened and why I bought his new book, “Whistlestop,” which expands his podcast and adds a few special moments.
If you’re interested in politics and/or American history, and you’re looking for something to get that bad taste of the 2016 race out of your mouth, I highly recommend it.
“The only thing new in the world,” Harry Truman once said, “is the history you don’t know.”
This is the mission statement for “Whistlestop,” which manages to entertain as well as educate.
If you’re appalled with the tone of this year’s election, it might be a little cheery to read about the election of 1840, or 1828, or 1964.
We’ve been here before, which is what Mr. Truman and Mr. Dickerson both understand.
If Dickerson’s interest in political history was inspired by his mother’s profession (I have no idea), my inspiration came from a slightly different source but still traceable.
As soon as I could read, books became easy birthday and Christmas gifts, and some of those books were about history. I practically memorized young-reader biographies of our presidents, and television helped.
One of my early favorites was “Daniel Boone,” which began the year I learned to read and took place around the time of the American Revolution. I was hooked.
And while I’m certainly not qualified to write a book about American history, that hasn’t stopped me from boring anyone who is unfortunate enough to be in the same room and too polite to jump out the nearest window.
Take the election of 1840, which Dickerson describes in wonderful, quirky detail in the chapter, “The Birth of Umbrage.”
It was the first time a presidential candidate actively campaigned, for one thing.
This was William Henry Harrison, who easily beat the incumbent, Martin Van Buren. It helped that the country was in its first major economic downturn, and that Van Buren was viewed much as Herbert Hoover would be almost a century later, indifferent and uncaring.
But that was only the beginning.
Harrison was the oldest president elected up to that point (age 68 years and 23 days at inauguration), a record that would last another 140 years.
He gave the longest inaugural address ever, at just under two hours. He was the first (there were two) Whig to be elected. He was the first president to die in office and served the shortest amount of time (30 days, 12 hours, 30 minutes). He was also the last president born a British subject (in 1773).
In 1820, James Monroe ran for a second term as president unopposed, the only time (after George Washington) that’s happened in our history.
In 1872, President Ulysses Grant’s opposition was a fellow Republican, newspaper editor Horace "Go West, Young Man” Greeley, who was not only nominated by a splinter party calling themselves Liberal Republicans but also by the Democrats.
It was the first time a candidate had been nominated by two different parties.
Greeley had only briefly served as a congressman before running, but then Abraham Lincoln only had one two-year term in the House on his resume before he was elected president.
Prior to 2016, the last time a major party nominated someone with no political experience at all was in 1940, when businessman Thomas Dewey came out of left field to snag the GOP nod.
And if you think that 2016 is particularly nasty, take a look at the election of 1800, when two Founding Fathers, the incumbent John Adams and his former vice-president, Thomas Jefferson, slogged through the mud, spurred on by a press that had no illusions, and certainly presented none, of objectivity.
Dickerson covers that in his chapter “Keep Your Attack Dog Fed.” You should read it.
You should read the whole book, or at least if you’re looking for solace.
This is who we are, and who we’ve always been, and still we’ve managed to peacefully transition for over two centuries, ugliness and all.
As Mr. Truman might have said, everything old is new again. Just wipe your feet when you’re through.