It Ain't Beanbag

Feb. 19 - You're going to start hearing it soon: all the morbid complaints about negative campaigning. Democrats blaming Republicans, Republicans blaming Democrats, Ralph Nader blaming the Trilateral Commission... I've already seen John Kerry mumbling something along the lines of, "I'm not surprised by the sleazy and disgusting negative campaign tactics being deployed by the Nazi-worshipping, baby-killing Republicans. I won't stoop to that level of negativity."

It's all crap. Every presidential candidate in American history has dirtied his hands in the filth and muck of negative campaign tactics, from the snarky ad to the ruthless whispering campaign to the printing and distribution of pure lies. Presidential rhetoric has an historic pedigree of distortion, insinuation, and fabrication—and, in response, every election cycle in American history has featured Pollyanna pundits swooning over the noxious fumes emanating from the stump. "It was never this ugly! This negative tone is destroying our republic! Oh, for the purity of yesteryear!"

One of the great deflections of all time.

Democracy isn't damaged by the free exchange of lousy or inaccurate ideas, and Americans didn't invent the art of character assassination. Anyone who thinks negative campaigns are new to American politics needs to reacquaint themselves with American history.

Here's one enlightening episode: it was on this very date in 1807 that Aaron Burr became the first U.S. vice-president to be arrested.

Mr. Burr was also the first sitting vice-president to kill a man (previous vice presidents had only managed the trick standing up). But the events were unrelated.

A little backstory:

In the presidential election of 1800, Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson drew to a tie. The House of Representatives broke the tie by throwing their weight behind Jefferson, making him president. Burr was given the vice-presidency as either a consolation prize or a practical joke.

Like many other people, Vice-President Burr was often irritated by Alexander Hamilton. Unlike most other people, he shot and killed him. Although it had been a fair duel, the vice-president was indicted for murder. He was never actually arrested for the shooting, nor was he removed from office, because there was no controlling legal authority in place to prevent a vice-president from shooting Alexander Hamilton.

Civilized political discourse?

(A subsequent constitutional amendment that would have made it illegal for members of the executive branch to shoot Alexander Hamilton was defeated on the grounds of its limited usefulness to the deceased.)

After serving out his term as veep, Mr. Burr moved to the southwest and decided to establish his own empire. Fortunately there were controlling legal authorities that prohibited the establishment of empires. President Jefferson had him arrested on February 19, 1807.

Burr was ultimately acquitted. (His descendant Raymond Burr would go on to restore a bit of varnish to the family name as Perry Mason.)

Dick Cheney is unlikely to challenge any of Bill Clinton's cabinet secretaries to a duel. More's the pity. But it's worth reflecting on the progress that represents!

* * *

I'd like to point out that I in no way endorse the shooting of Alexander Hamilton, who is one my heroes. (The DMG has already vetoed Alexander and Hamilton as baby names.) I realize this will alienate any Jeffersonians hanging around my site but I don't care. Lousy Jeffersonians... scram!

* * *

February 19 is also notable for the 1995 marriage, on that date, of Pamela Anderson to rocker Tommy Lee. Their marriage is best remembered for having produced the most widely-distributed honeymoon pictures in the history of the world.

* * *

In light of yesterday's bloggish about the wonders of the future, I came across something that seemed weirdly relevant. First, to save myself some time setting it up, here's an introductory paragraph from Wired:

For the uninitiated, The Sims is the most successful line of games ever. It started in the late 1980s with SimCity, a game in which players take the role of a powerful mayor who creates and modifies a city to keep citizens happy. About 10 years later, Electronic Arts, the publisher of the series, released The Sims. In this game, the best-selling title of all time, players control the lives of virtual people, called Sims, and determine their daily activities to keep them content.

And now a brilliant outside vendor has developed a plug-in for Sims gamers that lets them keep their virtual little hatchlings busy by, well, playing SimCity. I think this represents one of the great leaps forward of all time. Imagine a chess game where a black and a white piece brought into conflict would have to sit down and play their own game of chess to resolve it.

Player at play.

Where does it end? Mirrors within mirrors! My God, it could go on for ever! We could have virtual people playing games where they control virtual people who play games in which they control virtual people.

Stoners and philosophers chew on that!

* * *

The Moron's Index
Bean Counter: 13 weeks + 6 days
Days as a Non-Smoker: 5
Shots Taken at Treasury Secretaries, Lifetime: 0
Wedgies Administered to Treasury Secretaries, Lifetime: 7
Complete Episodes of Baywatch Seen, Lifetime: 0
Complete Episodes of VIP Seen, Lifetime: 2
Nude Pictures of Pamela Anderson Seen, Lifetime: 100+

Dagens Ord (The Word of the Day)
Standse. Arrest. "Jeg har standset Aaron Burr." = I have arrested Aaron Burr. A very handy phrase to hold onto.

Happy Thursday!

2004, The Moron's Almanac™

[close window]
[Daily Briefing Archive]