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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


American politics are crazy but could be worse

Today is the day. It’s finally here — that first Tuesday after the first Monday in November we call Election Day. After today, we no longer have to hear about how Gabrielle Giffords cut Medicare, or how Jesse Kelly is looking to radically revamp Social Security. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the last election cycle, it’s that American politics are crazy. From tales of Christine O’Donnell’s past flirtations with witchcraft to Rand Paul’s supposed worship of “”Aqua Buddha”” as a pothead teenager, politics and the media coverage around it are absolutely nuts. This campaign season was especially nasty, with countless attack ads and 24 hours of constant spin coming from Fox News and MSNBC.

However, this season doesn’t exactly represent a new low for American politics. As history shows us, times have been much worse. To put things into perspective, and make the American people feel a little better about themselves, let’s examine some of the darkest moments of American politics.

The Corrupt Bargain — During the presidential election of 1824, no candidate received a majority of the votes, so it was up to the House of Representatives to decide who would be the nation’s next leader. Andrew Jackson had received a plurality of both the popular vote and the Electoral College, but instead the House chose John Quincy Adams. It is largely believed that Speaker of the House Henry Clay was able to convince the House to side with Adams. After the House chose Adams, it was announced that Clay would become Secretary of State. While the House’s decision to elect Adams wasn’t corrupt, the fact that Clay was named to a very important cabinet post after playing such an large role in influencing the House’s decision most certainly was.

The Whiskey Ring — In 1875, a huge scandal was revealed to the American public. During the era of Civil War Reconstruction, Republican politicians, collaborating with tax collectors, were able to divert revenue from taxes on alcohol to a network of distillers, which was used as a campaign fund. The city of St. Louis alone saw more than a million dollars of lost revenue due to the scheme. When the operation was finally made public, it became known that high-ranking members of Ulysses S. Grant’s administration were involved, including his private secretary and the chief clerk of the Treasury Department.

Tammany Hall — The overly powerful Democratic Party political machine known as Tammany Hall was exceptionally corrupt and controlled the politics of New York City for decades. In 1869, William Tweed, perhaps the most notorious political boss in American history, was able to use a system of bribes to ensure the machine’s political dominance. He and his associates had control of the city’s books, as well as the court system, and were able to use taxpayer money to funnel excessive amounts of money to government contractors, guaranteeing their political loyalty. In 1871, the scandal was made public and Boss Tweed lost his influence. However, Tammany Hall remained an effective political institution until the 1960s.

Watergate — Need I say more?

McCarthyism — After World War II, Americans were deathly afraid of communism and its possible spread to the United States. In 1953, Sen. Joseph McCarthy used his position as chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations to create hearings to investigate whether certain Americans had ties with communism. The committee held 169 hearings between 1953 and 1954 and acted like a modern-day witch hunt. People became even more afraid of the possible communists living among them. In addition, many members of the entertainment industry were denied employment due to suspected pro-communist political beliefs. These hearings tore at the fabric of American society and constituted what is known as the Second Red Scare.

Of course there are many more examples of past political scandals; America’s political history is far from perfect. We can breathe a sigh of relief that the current state of American politics isn’t nearly as bad as it has been in the past. To our knowledge, we no longer have political parties breaking into each other’s headquarters, or politicians funneling tax money into corrupt political machines. Nonetheless, we do have our own problems: the media tells us how to think and not simply the facts, big business has too large of an influence over campaigns, the electorate is uninformed and, most importantly, the country is too bitterly divided. However, the next time somebody tells you they have given up on politics, just remind them that it could be worse. Now go out and vote.

— Andrew Shepherd is a political science senior. He can be reached at

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