Monday, April 30, 2012

Campaign Hooey


During the Abe Lincoln canvass, candidates for the presidency were much interested in bonding emotionally with the working class.

They were even more interested in displaying their military badges and ribbons. At one point, Lincoln became so put-off by the imposture that he openly ridiculed, as only Lincoln could do, the grand military hustle of the Democrats. Lincoln’s own military service in the Black Hawk War, three enlistments of about 30 days each, was refreshingly free of heroism. Following the hostilities, Lincoln’s horse was stolen. He and his companion, George Harrison, were compelled to walk and canoe back to New Salem.
Lincoln, of course, was born in a log cabin, though he managed to ease his way into a comfortable middle class berth as a fairly prosperous lawyer.
George Washington -- net worth: $525 million, a cool, half billion in in today’s mostly worthless currency – rates as America’s most wealthy president.  Next in line is President Thomas Jefferson, net worth $212 million; followed by Teddy Roosevelt, net worth $125 million; followed by Andy Jackson, the father of the Modern Democratic Party, at a net worth of $119 million; followed by James Madison, net worth $101 million; followed by Lyndon Johnson, net worth $98 million; followed by Herbert Hoover, net worth $75 million; followed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, net worth $60 million; followed by Bill Clinton, net worth $38 million; with John Kennedy bringing up the rear as the 10th most wealthy U.S. President.  Mr. Kennedy did not inherit his daddy’s wealth; most of his income and property came to him through a family trust shared with his siblings. Among the top ten wealthiest Presidents, there are but two Republicans in the bunch, and none of this great wealth, much of it held by Democrats who married well, was a bar to the presidency.
If the Father of the Country ever felt the need to put himself forward to electors as a chip off the old middle class block, he manfully resisted the temptation. Jefferson thought of himself as an enlightenment aristocrat; ditto Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution. FRD’s wealth came to him through marriage and inheritance, and when he ran into difficulties with creditors, his mommy bailed him out. For the notable Democratic presidents listed above, great wealth was no bar to public service.

Here in Connecticut, the state’s all Democratic congressional delegation is studded with multimillionaires. Like Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal married well; his wife’s father owns the Empire State building in New York, among other properties. Though U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro often points to her humble roots, she also is a multi-millionaire, and U.S. Representative Jim Himes made his millions on Wall Street not Main Street.

Military service remains for some politicians a springboard into politics. When Mr. Blumenthal sought to inflate his military record during his many campaigns as attorney general, he backed into a truth grinder, and it was discovered that, unlike the more modest Lincoln, Mr. Blumenthal had forseveral years been stealing valor from servicemen who had fought in Vietnam.

His opponent in the race for the U.S. Senate, Linda McMahon, financed her previous campaign from her private fortune. Mrs. McMahon’s great wealth did not come to her through marriage. She and her husband, both bankrupted at one point, earned their riches though enterprise and hustle. And though she never claimed to have been born in a log cabin, Mrs. McMahon’s hardscrabble trajectory does not resemble that of the one percenters who ascended to the presidency. Of course, the differences between Mrs. McMahon and Mr. Lincoln are too apparent not to have been noticed by Connecticut’s vigilant media: One was the CEO of a wrestling empire and the other was a politically astute lawyer from Sangamon County in Illinois well known in the frontier towns for his wrestling prowess.
Claims of modest birth still play well on the stump, even among millionaires operating outside the shadow of the largely mythical log cabin. A military record helps. The anti-authoritarianism lying at the center of libertarianism still tugs at the heart strings, as does an American as apple pie anti-clericalism, which lies at the center of the war on Catholicism being waged by Planned Parenthood and Connecticut’s Democratic congressional delegation, 100 percent of whom have received from the abortion provider a rating of 100 percent on votes important to Planned Parenthood’s money prospects.
Most political claims are gilded hooey, sometimes honeyed hooey, but always entertaining. It’s best during national and state campaigns to take the advice of Mark Twain and swallow the campaign braggadocio with “a ton of salt,” and then, when slipping into the slough of despond, reach for Henry Mencken: “A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in… A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.”
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