Those who are seeking a clean, issues-oriented presidential campaign are in the wrong universe. Politics, whether local or national, always have been gutter affairs.
A series of U.S. publications have come forth with historical perspectives on campaigns that basically show other campaigns have involved more dirty tricks, name calling and outright lies than the current one.
Who can forget that photo of then-presidential candidate Gary Hart on the yacht Monkey Business in March 1987 with Donna Rica on his lap. That photo was on the front page of the National Enquirer.
That same publication just came forth with an accusatory article about Rafael “Ted” Cruz, claiming the Republican candidate has been involved with five women who are not his wife. Cruz denies the article is true and claims the information was planted by the Donald Trump campaign.
Grover Cleveland also was the target of a sex allegation. That was in 1884 when Republican operatives disclosed that the New York bachelor had been paying child support. They came up with the slogan “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?”
The Cleveland campaign alleged corruption by his opponent and created “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine.”
Of course it was the Richard Nixon campaign that wrote the book on dirty tricks.
Eventually the campaign actions, including the Watergate break-in, and his lack of truthfulness cost him the presidency.
Even Jimmy Carter’s campaign sought out bad news about President Gerald Ford, a Republican, in the Colorado ski town where the Fords vacationed.
Then there was Willie Horton, the convicted murderer who got out of prison on parole and went on to add assault, armed robbery and rape to his resume. The George H.W. Bush in 1988 quickly blamed the Democratic candidate, Michael Dukakis for the Massachusetts weekend parole program.
In the early days of the Republic campaigns were even more ungentlemanly even though candidates did not campaign in person until later. The election also was more confusing.
In 1796 there were seven Federalist and five Democrat-Republican candidates on the ballot.
The winner, President John Adams, tried to insure a second term by persecuting the opposition even to the extent to having leading opponents thrown into jail.
In contrast Costa Rica today cracks down on reports of aggressive campaigning. A highly effective television commercial showing an Ottón Solís character beating up an Óscar Arias Sánchez character quickly was withdrawn during the 2006 campaign. The second vice president under Arias Kevin Casas ended up resigning because of a memo he wrote suggesting financial punishment for municipal officials who did not support the free trade treaty with the United States in a referendum.
Such niceties are a far cry from a claim that if Thomas Jefferson were elected president murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will openly be taught and practiced, as one newspaper of the time put it.
Campaign free for alls received legal support in the United States with the Times v. Sullivan decision that said public figures could sue for libel only if they could show allegations against them were known to be false by those making the claim. The U.S. Supreme Court called this actual malice in its 1964 decision. That legal requirement can seldom be met.
As the current presidential campaign heats up, Cruz can expect more questions about his faithfulness. Trump has said enough so that opponents have to do little digging. And Hillary Clinton can be the target of scandal in many ways due to the lengthy political record she has compiled. And with Bernie Sanders, another potential Democratic candidate, opponents need not look to his personal life because his stated policies clearly are untenable.