The tactic of mudslinging: Past, present, and future

Dan Lewis and Sam Mahoney, Staff Writer

Mudslinging in this election has been some of the worst in American history and the low popularity of the candidates only serves to increase the number of voters receptive to the insults.

Mudslinging is defined as the implementation of scandalous accusations and insults intended to harm the recipient’s reputation and is overwhelmingly common in the American bipartisan political system.  

However, mudslinging is nothing new and has been a component of American politics since the late 1700’s.  The first election in which mudslinging was used was 1796. Alexander Hamilton took the alias “Phocion” in Gazette, making claims that Jefferson had an affair with his slave. Jefferson refuted this despite it’s truthfulness, retaliating upon Hamilton by calling him an old, bald, blind, fool the same way Hamilton attacked Jefferson.

John Quincy Adams used mudslinging against his opponent, Andrew Jackson, in their election. Adams manipulated the public’s image of Jackson from a war hero into a warmonger.

The election of 1884 was particularly dirty.  James Blaine’s reputation was brought into question and he was deemed a swindler and a liar. Grover Cleveland’s abandonment of his child was brought to the public’s attention by the creation of a verse of song.   

History co-teacher Nancy Murtha believes that the reason mudslinging is so effective is because it “is sensational and catches attention. ; it sells papers. But it is good at dispelling voters of the opponents, demoralizing them.”

Mudslinging has now become an expected part of each election. “I’ve always viewed mudslinging as just part of the election process,” senior Peter Mulligan said about the use of the technique in this election. He, along with many others believe that getting dirt on one’s opponent so that they can pull ahead in the election is expected. That is just the nature of the beast, and this election is no different.

The twenty-first century, particularly 2016, seems to have turned back the clock on mudslinging.  Both candidates have constantly been harassing and threatening each other about their various faults, mistakes, and even crimes. Trump often claims that Clinton is a threat to national security, and was a failure as Secretary of State, but she returns fire with allegations that Trump has avoided paying taxes for years and that he has molested, and disrespected women. Although it is difficult to determine who of the two has used mudslinging more, it looks like they won’t be stopping until well after the election has ended.

While mudslinging can be very useful in hurting the other candidate’s campaign, there is also a chance that it can backfire, especially after using it excessively. Sarah Whelan, a senior, said that over use of mudslinging can cause the “campaign to become stagnant and unproductive.” This often leads both contenders into an unfavorable position with everyone, as “neither candidate can show who they are to the American people because of constant shutdowns by the opponent.”

Focusing on attacking the other campaign is often detrimental to everyone involved. She said that once the debate becomes focused on slinging mud, talk about actual problems in the country derail into insubstantial insults, instead of useful discussion.

English teacher Terence Mulholland said that it affects not just the candidates, but the debate as a whole. He said that mudslinging can often have a “snowball effect,” after one person begins, the other must defend and then retort with something worse, causing a back and forth battle that degrades the the debates as a whole.

After a while it can become more about the quantity of mud one can sling at the other, than the actual quality and reliability of the information being used. By continuing this war of personal attacks, Mr. Mulholland said, “issues that are really important, are lost.”

Slinging mud has always been a dirty, but effective tool in American politics.  Time and technology have fundamentally changed the election process since the days of the Founding Fathers, but mudslinging, whatever its critics might say has survived the test of time, and remains a fundamental technique in the campaigns of this year’s candidates.

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