The thing that gets us about the coming presidential campaign is how demure — dainty even — is the language the candidates are using. President Trump set the high-minded tone when he attached to Vice President Biden the sobriquet “sleepy Joe.” And then ventured that the ex-veep is a “loser.” Mr. Biden turned around and suggested that to America, Mr. Trump represented an “existential threat.”
Can you believe it? The New York Times has up in its lead position a 1,700-word dispatch about this mist of rosewater. It quotes Mr. Biden as suggesting that Mr. Trump has embraced the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un — a “damn murderer,” the veep ventures. Mr. Trump put it out that not only is Mr. Biden “a loser” and a “sleepy guy” but he is the “weakest mentally.”
“Ferocious” is the word with which the Times describes that exchange of angel food. It quotes Mr. Biden as cooing that Mr. Trump had shown poor character by resorting to “crude language and embarrassing behavior that is burrowing deep into this culture.” The paper seems to have forgotten the example set by the Founding Fathers, who first refined the art of insults in the election of 1800.
That’s the election in which Thomas Jefferson’s opponent, President John Adams, was set down as a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” The Jefferson Foundation points out that those words are not from Jefferson himself but from a scrivener, James Callender (albeit at Mr. Jefferson’s instigation).
Callender may have been animated by resentment over the fact that Adams’ Alien and Sedition Acts were used to throw him into jail — which is where our own Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, announced the other day that she wants to see Mr. Trump. Land sakes, Madam Speaker, is that the best you can do? John Adams called Alexander Hamilton the “bastard brat of a Scotch pedler.”
And he was just tuning up. He once penned a letter suggesting that Hamilton suffered from a “superabundance of secretions” that he could not find enough — the editor of the Sun requires us to paraphrase here — women of the night to “draw off.” Then again, Teddy Roosevelt once called Woodrow Wilson “a Byzantine logothete backed by flubdubs and mollycoddles.”
TR also insisted that President McKinley “had no more backbone than a chocolate eclair.” Even — or especially — Lincoln came in for the most outlandish insults. He was lampooned as a raccoon and called (by New York lawyer George Templeton Strong) “a barbarian, Scythian, yahoo, or gorilla.” President Truman called Vice President Nixon a “a no-good lying bastard.”
Of course, President Truman famously claimed General Eisenhower “doesn’t know any more about politics than a pig knows about Sunday.” Once you start scouting around the Web, which is where we picked up this basket of insults, you get the impression that Messrs. Trump and Biden are rank amateurs at the art of political insults.
Even the newspaper headlines start to look wan (our favorite, “Trump, Treasonous Traitor,” from the Times). So let us just encourage the current crop of candidates — these no-good lying flubdubs and pussywillows — to take off the rhetorical gloves and when it comes to their opponents, let the long suffering American voters know what they really think.
Image: Drawing by Elliott Banfield, courtesy of the artist.