Old-time campaign verse

IT will soon be election day throughout the land -- a time not only to vote but to reflect on the fact that American elections have lost much of their emotional aspect over the years. In part, this is attributable to contemporary Americans' sharing a wide political consensus in which similarities vastly outweigh differences, to the greater sophistication of an educated population, and to the refinement of campaigns as a result of modern polling techniques.

But there's a sort of nostalgia about the old days when American campaigners had to create a campaign from scratch, often relying on made-up songs and poetry to win the ear and favor of voters.

That era began in 1828 with the campaign between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, and not surprisingly, Jackson's victory owed much to supporters who devised such ditties as ``Down With the House of Braintree and Hurray for Old Hickory.''

By 1884 in the presidential contest between Republican James G. Blaine and Democrat Grover Cleveland, slogans and stump rhetoric often expressed personal vilification.

But even in rebutting charges against him, Blaine used the type of ornamented, perplexing language that illustrated an ingenuity of sorts:

``There is not a word in the letters,'' he said, ``which is not entirely consistent with the most scrupulous integrity and honor.''

As for the Democrats, they retorted in doggerel:

Blaine! Blaine!

The Continental liar

From the State of Maine.

Perhaps the most unheralded piece of songwriting belonged to Alfred Landon's supporters in 1936 in the race against President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Set to the tune of ``Oh, Susannah,'' the first verse and refrain suggest the last of the old-fashioned political songs:

Our Ship of State is on the Rocks

And soon it will be sunk.

It has no pilot at the Wheel

But regimented Bunk.

It wanders to the right and left,

It flounders all around,

It needs a captain on the Bridge

Whose reckoning is sound.

Landon, oh, Landon, will lead to victory --

With the dear old Constitution and it's good enough for me.

Thomas V. DiBacco is a historian at the American University.

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