Our founding fathers were America’s first politicians after its independence and, by all accounts, they were idealists – people who felt strongly in their convictions and sincerely wanted to improve their country. Just look at 1796’s epic Adams v. Jefferson presidential election – the very first heated presidential election in American history. The two fought hard for what they believed in and, despite the election (and an even harder one in 1800), the two remained good friends up until their deaths.
Fast forward to 2008. Already, candidates have been taking personal swipes at each other, desperate to destroy the other’s image by any means necessary. The primaries are not even over and the 2008 election already appears to be one of the nastiest in recent memory.
Perhaps most disturbing is the contentious atmosphere between Democratic frontrunners Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
The mutual dislike between these two has grown over the past few months, and it reached a boiling point on January 21 during the South Carolina Democratic presidential debate. Televised nationwide on CNN, the two went back and forth from the get go, trading personal jabs with each other.
Clinton started the attacks on Monday, criticizing Obama for having represented a “slum landlord business” while practicing law in Chicago.
“It is very difficult having a standup debate with you,” she later said, “because you never take responsibility for any vote.”
Obama joined in on the personal attacks, criticizing Clinton for employing her husband to do some campaigning. “I can’t tell who I’m running against at times,” he joked.
The volatile atmosphere surrounding South Carolina’s debate is exactly what the Democrats do not want. Intense divisiveness can only hurt a party that is struggling to win back the White House after eight long years.
And, most importantly, the petty attacks took away from any sort of meaningful discussion regarding how our country can improve, especially after the last few years, in which America has fallen even more into debt, continued a senseless war, and denied more and more people healthcare.
All the media hype surrounding Clinton and Obama’s feud has taken attention away from John Edwards, the Democratic candidate who is, in actuality, the most outspoken about his beliefs and his platform.
But what’s most disheartening about all this is that Americans seem to enjoy the baseless personal attacks over substantial debate. According to the Associated Press, an estimated 4.9 million people watched the Democratic debate on Monday, making it the most-watched debate ever in cable news.
Most analysts seem convinced that the surge in ratings is largely due to the peresonal feud going on between Clinton and Obama.But the senseless personal attacks don’t end with the Democrats – already, organizations have popped up trashing Republican candidates. For example, Vietnam Veterans against John McCain has taken out numerous ads claiming the Arizona Senator ignored other American POWs once he returned to America. Of course, the Web site neglects to mention that they have absolutely no evidence supporting this claim.
The advertisements against McCain bring to mind the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth fiasco from four years ago – a movement that shifted media attention away from nominee John Kerry’s actual opinions and entirely on his war record.
This election is shaping up to be even more heated than 2004, with personal attacks coming out against both Democrats and Republicans, clouding any actual debate and preventing us from hearing candidates’ stances on important issues. How many times have we really heard the candidates get together and decently discuss what our country needs to do in terms of the environment, social security, nuclear proliferation, and healthcare?
I don’t know about other Americans, but I could care less what my candidates do in their spare time or what they did in the past. Who cares if one candidate is attacking the other; I simply want to know what they’ll do to help my country. But then again, maybe I’m just an idealist.