- Thomas Elder, prominent Whig politician, 1840
"Passion and prejudice properly aroused and directed...do about as well as principle and reason in a party contest."
In a bitterly-contested presidential election, a Democratic candidate praised for his intellectual demeanor and idealistic spirit is the target of vicious personal attacks that question his patriotism and his ethnic background.
It was 1800, and Thomas Jefferson was the subject of rumors and crude innuendo circulated in newspapers and handbills passed out in taverns claiming that he was the son of a half-breed Indian squaw squired by a Virginia mulatto father.
Obviously, things haven't changed that much.
The 2008 election has been marked in recent months by an endless round of negative ads and robo-calls attacking Barack Obama's patriotism, honesty, integrity, faith, experience.
Watch a slideshow of the most hate-filled flyers and mailers in the 2008 campaign:
The negative personal attacks of the current campaign stands out, compared to dirty tricks used in recent elections like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads in 2004 and the rumors spread about John McCain's adopted daughter in 2000, because they're being voiced by the Republican candidate and his running mate, rather than their surrogates or sympathetic groups.
"One thing that has struck me is that it's been left to McCain and Palin to directly make some of the personal attacks on Obama's character," says Kerwin Swint, the author of "Mudslingers: The Top 25 Negative Political Campaigns of All Time."
"In the past, this would have been done by outside groups like 527s or PACs. Past Republican candidates haven't directly made these attacks. But those groups haven't been there for McCain like they have for previous candidates and that's left him in the position of having to do it himself. He may not enjoy doing it but his advisers have told him, "This is your only chance." And he's thrown it all at Obama - the only thing he held back on was [Rev.] Jeremiah Wright."
One of the most negative lines of attack used by McCain was the recent question: "Who is Barack Obama?"
"That suggests he's not who you think he is. It's a nefarious play to people's fears. 'Is he really a Muslim?' 'Is he close to terrorists?' He's not one of us. It's about making him seem scary and un-American."
Swint compared such attacks to the infamous ad used by late Senator Jesse Helms in his tough re-election campaign in 1990 against Harvey Gantt, the first black mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Those attacks have a not-so-subtle racial element to them, explains Joseph Cummins, the author of "Anything For a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots, and October Surprises."
"It plays into people's pre-existing seeds of racism, that as a Muslim or as a black man, he's alien to the mainstream."
Cummins says that current campaign is in contention to make his list of the top 10 dirtiest presidential campaigns in American history. "The volume of stuff put out by the McCain campaign is pretty extraordinary."
Most of those ads have aired on TV, radio and the Internet and negative attacks have been used in robo-calls by the campaign and Republican party officials.
But some of the crudest attacks, many of which are circulated by independent operatives and players not affiliated with the McCain campaign, have used the oldest campaign technique in the book: flyers posted on bulletin boards and shoved under car windshield wipers.
The worst examples, shown in the accompanying slideshow, have used racist caricatures, implied that Obama has an affinity with Osama Bin Laden, and suggested that the country is on the verge of a race war.
There have been some anti-McCain flyers with caricatures of the candidate as a scarred POW but they did not appear during the general election and were distributed by McCain's contenders in the hotly-contested Republican primary.
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