Sunday, October 9, 2016

Think this election is nutty? History provides precedent

Whenever I start to think this political season has brought America to its lowest ebb, I like to remember the beat-down of 1856. In short, a relative of a pro-slavery Senator took a cane to the brain of another Senator who had given offense. On the Senate floor. When others tried to stop the assault, they were held at bay by another congressman with a gun. On the Senate floor. This was before metal detectors, and before credentials, and doors on the Senate chamber, apparently.

It makes the war-of-words of 2016, with its rhetoric about heating up gas chambers, "deplorables" and Mexican rapists charmingly nonviolent.

In the election of 1800, voting lasted from April to October. Not campaigning. Voting. President Adams was so unpopular, Thomas Jefferson and his VP pick, Aaron Burr, each individually got more electoral votes than Adams. It was a tie, in fact, the win going to Jefferson only by some back room wrangling. To avoid this in the future Congress passed the 12th amendment, which stipulated that the country would be divided in half once Facebook was invented.

In 1872, sitting president Ulysses S. Grant (were there really so many Grants named Ulysses he had to pop an "S" just to separate himself from the crowd?) coasted to reelection because his opponent died before election day. Horace Greeley is the only candidate to ever kack before an election was completed. Greeley is famous for founding the New York Tribune, and for saying "Go west, young man," even though he later swore he never said it. For his health, he might have been better off taking his own advice, which he never gave.

In 1920, Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs got 3% of the vote even though he was in prison. Without the V, he might have been confused with many other Eugene Debses who were not incarcerated, and only gotten 2%. America loves a bad boy.

In 1992, H. Ross Perot, a Texas billionaire businessman (who spared no expense to put the initial in front of his name) jumped into the race as an Independent. Some think he siphoned away enough votes from VP George H.W. Bush to cost him the election. Historians know, however, that Bush was undone by attempting the risky two-initials-in-the-middle gambit, which any pundit will tell you can only be pulled off if you are a fantasy/science fiction writer.

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