September 25, 2008

Campaign Blast from the Past: Those @!&%! Voters!

American political candidates regularly pay carefully-phrased compliments to the American public. They know the most basic rule of politics: NEVER insult your voters.

It sounds obvious, but even veteran politicians sometimes forget. Senator Jim Watson (right, 1862-1948) was in office for six terms. But when he said, “You can vote for me or go to hell," Watson lost the next election.

Hearing of Watson's gaffe, Calvin Coolidge quipped, “He gave them a difficult alternative.” (Capping irony: If you visit Watson's official Senate page, it has the heading: James E. Watson: "Impossible Not to Like.")

Frontiersman Davy Crockett (1786–1836) had better timing than Watson, but worse results. Starting in 1827, Crockett served three terms in Congress. But after losing his seat in 1835, Davy told voters to "go to hell."

Crockett left town and went to the Alamo. In less than a year, he was dead.

The most legendary line along these lines came courtesy of Dick Tuck. After losing his bid for California state Senate seat in the 1960s, Tuck joked, "The people have spoken— the bastards."

Representative Morris Udall (left, with JFK) used the same line after losing the Democratic presidential primary to Jimmy Carter. Like Tuck, Udall also had a sense of humor... and he needed it, since that was the fifth time he'd lost a presidential primary!

As for McCain and Obama, they'll probably navigate the next weeks of campaigning without incident
. (We'll see about Biden and Palin.) Nonetheless, two of these candidates will soon want to what Abraham Lincoln said about losing an election. The great American president said that it made him feel like a boy who’s stubbed his toe: he’s too old to cry, but it hurts too much to laugh.
*My sources are here.

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